Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A nostalgic look at Argentina's radio scene

Don't Cry for Me Argentina: The Radio Scene in South American Argentina

It was announced during the month of January, that RAE Argentina, Radiodifusion Argentina Al Exterior, the international shortwave broadcasting service in Argentina, is not closing after all, but instead will continue its international service on shortwave. Then too, during our listener contest last year, one listener asked for a station profile on an interesting shortwave station in South America, and another specifically asked for similar information regarding RAE Argentina.
In response to all three of these matters, in our program today, we begin a two part feature on radio broadcasting in Argentina. We have chosen as the title for this topic, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, which is reminiscent of a powerful melody with remarkable lyrics. This week, we speak on early wireless and radio in Argentina; and next week, on the shortwave service RAE in particular; and also, Voice of America relays in Argentina.

Argentina is a large country in South America with a population of 40 million people. The country is 2,300 miles long and 1,000 miles wide, with Buenos Aires on the north coast as its capital city, and Ushaia down south on the nearby island of Terra del Fuego, as the most southerly town in the world. The famous Iguacu Falls on the border with Brazil, 237 feet high and 2 miles wide, are a major tourist attraction, as are the beaches along the Atlantic coast.
In its early pre-history, several Indian cultures lived in tribal areas within Argentina, though not as densely populated as further north. Just before the arrival of the first Europeans, the Inca Empire invaded the area of what is today northwest Argentina.
The first European to land in Argentina was the Spanish explorer, Juan de Solis, who arrived at the Rio de la Plata in 1516. Over the years, there were several attempts at establishing viable settlements in Argentina; and in 1542, Spain exerted control over all Spanish settlements in South America, organizing all of them into one large colonial administration.
In 1816, Argentina declared its independence from Spain as the United Provinces of La Plata; and in 1881 Patagonia in the south was absorbed into Argentina, thus establishing the boundaries of Argentina pretty well as we know them today.
On the wireless scene, it was on August 4, 1906, that the Argentine Marconi Company was formed for business in both Argentina & Uruguay. Four years later, Marconi himself visited Buenos Aires in Argentina, and while there he installed a rudimentary transmission device, which included a kite for use as the aerial, and a set of earphones. The location was the southern suburb of Bernal and the year was 1910. With this simple apparatus, Marconi succeed in communicating with Canada & Ireland.
During the year 1910, an official list of wireless stations shows a total of eight on the air throughout Argentina, including a fixed facility at this same Bernal location under the callsign MBL.
Construction work for a huge new wireless station at Monte Grande, some 12 miles from Buenos Aires, began in 1918. The main transmitting station was developed on a property of 1200 acres, and two low frequency transmission alternators were installed.
The antenna system for this wireless giant, nearly two miles in length, was supported on ten towers imported from France & Germany, each 680 ft tall. The counterpoise earthing system consisted of a buried network of wires, as well as a system of wires, 30 ft above ground level.
The Monte Grande Wireless Station was officially opened for international service in January 1924 under the callsign LPZ. The corresponding stations in overseas countries were located in New York, Paris & Berlin. The receiver station in Argentina was located at Villa Eliza, 20 miles from Buenos Aires.
The two Alexanderson alternators installed at the Monte Grande communication station were in continuous usage until they were de-commissioned seven years later in 1931. By that time, a bevy of shortwave transmitters had been installed at this location.
The broadcast of radio programming had a very early beginning in Argentina. A man by the name of Enrique Susini, together with three friends, established a make shift radio studio in the Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires which was under renovation at the time. They constructed a small 5 watt radio transmitter, erected an antenna wire from the theatre building to the dome of a neighboring building, and hooked in a microphone normally used by people with a hearing loss.
At 8:30 pm on August 27, 1920, the opening announcement was made in the Spanish language stating that the Radio Argentina Society was presenting the opera Parsifal by Richard Wagner. This live radio broadcast was taken from the stage of the theatre and it was heard by an estimated radio audience of less than 20 people, including a ship way up north off the coast of Brazil. The local newspaper, La Razon, published a raving review of the event, and the President of the nation, Hipolito Yrigoyen, commended the group for their initiative in producing Argentina’s first radio broadcast.
During the next 19 days, many more radio broadcasts were presented over the little 5 watt transmitter and temporary aerial wire, including two of Verdi’s operettas, Aida & Rigoletto. Over a period of time, Radio Argentina grew until it became a widespread network throughout the whole nation, until its demise ¾ of a century later, at the end of December 1997.
These days, Argentina is on the air from 1½ thousand AM mediumwave and FM radio stations that provide virtually total coverage to the entire population of their country. According to the World Radio TV Handbook, Radio Nacional operates two high powered mediumwave stations at 100 kW each, LRA1 on 870 kHz for capital city coverage & LRA7 on 750 kHz at Cordoba, for regional coverage inland in the center of the northern part of the country.
In our program next week, we will present the shortwave story in Argentina, including the development of their international broadcasting station RAE, as well as the network of Voice of America, VOA, relay stations in Argentina. We will also call the listener, Jean Barbat in France, who made the request for this particular feature.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 112 via Adrian Peterson)