Friday, December 18, 2009

Return to Pitcairn Island

You will remember that we broadcast a short series of programs here in Wavescan back in July on the topic of radio broadcasting on Pitcairn Island. As a result of this programming, John Cruddas here in the United States made contact with us, stating that he was holding many items associated with Pitcairn, and that he would like to pass them on for permanent preservation.

In due course, several packages containing Pitcairn memorabilia arrived at our Indianapolis address, and they turned out to be very interesting and very valuable historic items. Included in these packages were many items of historic importance from the middle of last century: old magazines, travel brochures, newspaper items, pictures, and QSL cards, all in some way associated with Pitcairn Island, and in particular their historic radio scene.

A copy of the commercial magazine, Pacific Islands Monthly for June 22, 1938, contains several items about Pitcairn Island, including one about the inauguration of the new radio station and its first relay broadcast on April 6. The magazine article quotes the complete text of this short radio program. Additional items in this magazine give the complete schedule of the ABC shortwave station VLR with programming beamed to the Pacific, as well as the programming schedule for the AWA shortwave station VK2ME at Pennant Hills, near Sydney in New South Wales.

Another magazine, the T & R Bulletin from England for December 1938, contains two items of radio interest; one item states that radio experiments during an eclipse of the moon provided no changes in propagation during that time, and the other item tells about the three callsigns in use on Pitcairn Island. We will present this information in our next edition of Wavescan.

Several of the travel brochures show the travels of Lewis Bellem & Granville Lindley on the occasion of their voyages to and from Pitcairn Island for the installation of the celebrated radio station PITC-VR6AY.

Included in the packages were four radio scripts giving the text of the radio broadcasts from Pitcairn Island that were re-broadcast in the United States over the NBC mediumwave network. Copies of newspaper items and photographs from this same time period also tell about the radio station and other events on Pitcairn Island.

And what about the QSL cards? These QSL cards, several hundred in number, are associated in some way with Pitcairn Island. They are all from amateur radio operators and shortwave listeners who addressed their QSL requests to Lewis Bellem in Providence, Rhode Island. These QSL cards and letters report hearing Pitcairn Island radio, and also Lewis Bellem at his home in the United States under his own amateur callsign, W1BES. Some of the Pitcairn QSO contacts were in Morse Code and some were voice.

So great was the interest in Pitcairn radio during this 1938 era that many of these QSO cards and letters are actually a follow up request, just to ensure that a genuine QSL card would be received from Pitcairn Island in due course. Here are the details of some of these reception report/QSO cards and letters:-

* A letter from the engineer at radio station CKWX in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada acknowledges two QSO contacts with Pitcairn Island and makes request for a full data QSL card.

* A QSL card from W6NCW in Hamilton California states that one of his children took the first QSL card that he received from VR6AY on Pitcairn and cut it up into little pieces with a pair of scissors. He is asking for a duplicate copy of the VR6AY card, to replace the one that was destroyed.

* A QSL card from W8HGA in Hinton West Virginia states that his first QSL card from VR6AY was badly damaged in the post, almost torn into three pieces, and he also requested a duplicate copy as a replacement.

* A QSL card from W7GLH in Vancouver, Washington, states that he attempted on an earlier occasion to gain an interest on the part of people in the radio world to establish a radio station on Pitcairn Island, but without success. He states that he is pleased that the 1938 attempt was successful.

* Several short letters from Mr J. D. Gallivan in Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, give details about events on Pitcairn Island. There was a shortage of petrol and kerosene, and then there was a rumor, apparently unfounded, that there was a typhoid epidemic on the island. The gasoline and kerosene fuels were needed on Pitcairn to run the motor generators that charge the batteries used by the radio station. These fuels were usually provided by radio personnel in the Panama Canal Zone.

* Other responses, in the way of QSL cards, came from Ireland, Cuba, England, Indonesia and Switzerland.

(future progrtamming will include a special feature regarding the three letter callsigns that were used by the station on Pitcairn Island, two amateur callsigns and one communication callsign.
(AWR Wavescan # NWS 42 via Adrian Peterson)