Friday, September 06, 2019

The Early Wireless Scene in South American Uruguay

In our Wavescan program today, we honor the Montevideo DX Group in Uruguay, and we begin a two or three part topic on the story of radio broadcasting in their country.

The South American country of Uruguay is located on the Atlantic seaboard, and it is sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina. It is the third smallest territory in South America, with an area of 68,000 square miles and a population of three and a half million people.  This country has a coastline of about 400 miles and it stretches inland about the same distance.

Their capital city is Montevideo, meaning approximately “Mountain View”, and it is the third most southerly capital city in the world.  Only Canberra in Australia, and Wellington in New Zealand reach further south than Montevideo. There is at least one question that people living in other parts of the world would ask regarding this area in South America, and that is: Why the similarity in name between Paraguay and Uruguay? 

According to the authorities, both names, Paraguay and Uruguay, are variations of the original local language, Guarani.  The meanings of the two country names can be described as follows:-

Paraguay = River of the Guarani people
Uruguay = Colorful water bird of the Guarani people

In the pre-colonial days, South American native tribes lived in what is now called Uruguay, and the Spanish and the Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit the area, in the early 1500s. Uruguay has endured a turbulent past, and it established its own independence in 1825. Both Spanish and Guarani are the official languages of Uruguay, though Spanish is the preferred language of business and government.

Soon after the beginning of World War 2, Uruguay came into prominence during the high profile events associated with the German battleship Graf Spee. Just a dozen weeks into the war, the Graf Spee was wounded in battle against British warships in the South Atlantic, and so this pride of the German Kriegsmarine sought shelter in the harbor at Montevideo, in neutral Uruguay.

Radio broadcasts from the British navy indicated, falsely, that British navy vessels were stationed in international waters outside Montevideo, ready to sink the Graf Spee should she venture out into the Atlantic.  A radio message from Berlin gave Captain Hans Langsdorff two options; either flee across La Plata Estuary to nearby Buenos Aires, or scuttle in the estuary itself.  He chose the latter, and exactly one week before Christmas 1939, to avoid capture, the Graf Spee was deliberately sunk, with all crew ashore. 

As was the case with many other countries around the world, Uruguay began the installation of wireless stations in the early 1900s, now more than one hundred years ago.  On November 12, 1904, the government of Uruguay gave formal approval for the installation of a German coastal wireless station at Punta Yeguas, on the edge of La Plata Estuary, a little west of Montevideo. 

Construction work was completed two years later (1906), and a new 1 kW Telefunken wireless transmitter was taken into Morse Code service under the callsign MV, obviously identifying Montevideo.  Subsequently, this callsign was modified with an initial letter U standing for Uruguay, and callsign MV became UMV.

Not to be outdone by their German competitors, the English Marconi company installed their own wireless station at Punte del Este, a very small peninsula some 80 miles east of the capital city Montevideo.  This new wireless station, also with a power of 1 kW, was inaugurated three years later in 1909, under the callsign MO, also obviously identifying Montevideo. 

It was the custom of the Marconi company back at that stage to choose the first and the last letters of the location of a land based station as the station callsign.  However subsequently, the Marconi company required all of their stations worldwide to insert an M as the first letter of their callsigns, and thus station MO Montevideo became MMO.

During the middle of the year 1912, a new government wireless station on a large 10 acre property near Cerrito Montevideo was taken into regular service under the callsign CWA.  This new coastal wireless station CWA replaced both the German Telefunken station UMV at Punta Yeguas and the English Marconi station MMO at Punta del Este.   

This station was licensed also for additional subsidiary callsigns, one for each shortwave channel.  These callsigns descended in alphabetic order; CWA, CWB, CWC, CWD, etc.

The well known international radio monitor Horacio A. Nigro of Montevideo provides detailed information about the new government operated CWA. Several new buildings were erected for this new coastal wireless station; the 2½ kW longwave spark transmitter was also made by Telefunken in Germany; the two steel antenna towers stood 200 feet tall and they were spaced 325 ft apart; the four phosphor bronze antenna wires were m
ore than one inch thick; and there was a counterpoise earthing system just above ground level. 

The main power source was provided by the city electricity company, though there was also a backup generator system.  The receiver was a new complicated uptodate version of what was originally a simple crystal set receiver.

Back during this original wireless era, several additional wireless stations were installed at various locations throughout Uruguay, including at lighthouses, as well as at inland locations.  In addition, some of the lower powered wireless stations were mobile units that could be installed wherever a temporary location was needed.

The long time coastal wireless station CWA in Uruguay dates its earliest origins back to the year 1904, and 115 years later, after several modernizations and periodic updates, this station is still on the air to this day, and still under its original callsign CWA.

More about the radio scene in Uruguay next time.
(Jeff White/Adrian Peterson-AWR/Wavescan-NWS 547)

Uruguayan stations in the Global Radio Guide-Summer 2019
Radio Carve 850 kHz AM 24hrs
Radio Clasica 650 kHz AM 24 hrs
Radio Oriental 770 kHz AM 24 hrs
Radio Rural 610 kHz AM 24 hrs
Radio Tacuarembo 1280 kHz AM 24 hrs
(Gayle Van Horn/Teak Publishing)