Monday, December 21, 2009

Pitcairn Island - Callsigns and QSL Cards

On four occasions in recent time here in Wavescan, we have presented special features about radio broadcasting on Pitcairn Island, way out there in the center of the South Pacific. Since then, a very interesting item of information that answers a previously unanswered question has been discovered among the many items of Pitcairn memorabilia provided by John Scuddas here in the United States.
This interesting information is found in a two page article written by Dorothy Hall, W2IXY, and printed in the British radio magazine, “T & R Bulletin”, dated December 1938. It is remembered that Dorothy Hall in New York City made frequent radio contact with Pitcairn during this era.
Back there in the years 1938 & 1939, three different styles of QSL cards were issued to verify the reception of transmissions from the station that was variously identified on air as PITC, VR6A & VR6AY. The callsign PITC was in use for the relay of broadcast programming to the RCA station KKW located at Bolinas in California, and the callsigns VR6A & VR6AY were in use for amateur radio QSO contacts.
The first QSL card showed a map of the Pacific with Pitcairn highlighted, and also a photograph of the radio equipment that was exported from the United States to Pitcairn Island. The callsign was printed in large red letters and it showed VR6A.
The next QSL card issued from Pitcairn was actually this same card, but with the letter Y handwritten at the end of the callsign, thus identifying the station as VR6AY.
The third QSL card issued from Pitcairn was a re-printing of the original card, with a slight re-alignment of the text on the address side of the card, and the listing of the callsign as VR6AY. The final letter Y was added at the time of printing.
However, the question that has caught the interest of the radio world, is this: Why the change in callsign? What was happening back there more than half a century ago?
The most common answer was that the first printing of this QSL card contained a printing error, and that the second printing corrected the mistake by adding the letter Y at the end of the callsign. However, further information demonstrates that this answer is incorrect. This is what really happened.
When the radio pioneers Granville Lindley & Lewis Bellem visited Pitcairn Island for the purpose of establishing the 60 watt shortwave station, they also took with them 1,000 generic QSL cards that would be used to verify the reception of this new amateur radio broadcasting station. The callsign on this card was printed as VR6A, without the final Y.
The supply of these QSL cards was soon used up, and so another batch of 5,000 cards was printed, with a slight re-adjustment of the text on the address side, and the identification of the station as VR6AY, including the final Y.
The magazine article by Dorothy Hall states that the Pitcairn station PITC made its inaugural transmission on March 5, 1938, as VR6A. It would appear that the callsign, VR6A, identified Pitcairn Radio as, for example, the first station on the island. However, at this stage, it was without a license, and as the article states, “panicky engineers” in the United States ordered the station off the air until the license situation was clarified.
Radio station PITC-VR6A was off the air until the legal paper work arrived, and it was re-launched in early April as VR6AY, with the last two letters of the callsign as the initials of the local operator, Andrew Young.
The first QSL card, as VR6A without a hand written alteration, is nowadays quite rare, though a few were issued for the original brief period of on air activity. We hold one QSL card of this nature, without the handwritten alteration.
We also hold as well one amateur card from Canada and a letter from an amateur operator in the United States, which confirm QSO contacts on March 8, 1938, during the four day era of its unlicensed operation before the station was temporarily closed.
The second QSL card issued from Pitcairn is actually the same card, but with the letter Y added in hand writing at the end of the callsign. This card is more common these days.
The third QSL card, which was actually the second print run, contains the full callsign as VR6AY. This card was used to confirm QSO contacts, and operations as a broadcast program provider, and also as a tourist souvenir, until the complete stock was depleted. This card is these days the most common. Thus far, we have not seen one of these QSL cards confirming a broadcast transmission under the commercial callsign PITC.
Thus, the reason for the change of callsign on these QSL cards was not because of a printing error as previously thought, but because the paperwork had not arrived. When the paperwork did arrive, it was an amateur license for Andrew Young, with the callsign VR6AY.
(AWR Wavescan NWS # 43 via Adrian Peterson)

Return to Pitcairn Island posted 18 December, 2009