Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Through the Years With Shortwave WYFR

On a recent occasion here in Wavescan, we presented an episode about the illustrious shortwave station WYFR up to the time when all 14 shortwave transmitters were installed in their new facility at Okeechobee in Florida.  This bevy of transmitters included one new unit that had been in storage for some time at the Continental factory in Dallas Texas; 5 that were transferred from the WRUL-WNYW-WYFR shortwave station at Hatherly Beach, Scituate in Massachusetts; and 8 that were constructed by the station staff at Okeechobee.

            In the onward flow of information about this huge shortwave station, we pick up the story again in the year 1988 at the time when the full complement of transmitters at Okeechobee was on the air in active service.

            As the transferred and new transmitters were installed progressively at Okeechobee, they were initially designated with the numbers from 1 - 14 in the order in which they were installed.  However, as time went by, the designation of each unit was modified and each transmitter was then identified in the progressive order of the actual location within the transmitter building.

            At this stage (1988), shortwave WYFR contained the following compliment of transmitters:-

                        2 Continental     418D     100 kW        New, though one was previously on air at Scituate

                        1 Continental     417B        50              Previously on air at Scituate

                        2 Harris Gates  HF100   100               Previously on air at Scituate

                        1 Gates             HF50C     50             Previously on air at Scituate

                        8 WYFR                           100             All new, design based on Continental 418D

            All 14 shortwave transmitters at WYFR were on the air in daily usage with programming in some 20 languages beamed at varying times throughout the day to all continents.  And, beginning each day at  2200 UTC in 1988 for example, all 14 transmitters were on the air at the same time, with a total output power into the antenna systems of a massive 1.3 MW (megawatts).

            In addition to the full complement of 14 shortwave transmitters, 2 at 50 kW and 12 at 100 kW, WYFR programming  was beamed almost worldwide with a bevy of 23 antennas; 12 log periodics, 5 nested double rhomboids (10), and a TCI curtain with a passive reflector.  The feeder transmission lines running from the transmitter building to the various antenna systems as shown on an engineering map are described as appearing like the spokes of a huge wagon wheel.

     Audio Insert

            WYFR: Theme music & identification announcement


            Over the years, there have been a few occasions when WYFR has sustained significant  damage under the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes.  For example, during the year 2004, WYFR was damaged by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, and then again during the following year by Hurricane Wilma. 

            In advance of the coming storms, the WYFR staff made adequate preparation to safeguard their station against wind, rain and lightning.  Outdoor items that might blow around were secured, the transmitters and other electronic equipment inside the transmitter building were covered with plastic sheeting to safeguard against rain, and the transmitters were shut down when the open wire transmission lines began to slap around in the wind.

            On these stormy occasions, some of the outdoor facilities were damaged, including antennas, feeder lines and switches.  After the systems were repaired following Hurricane Wilma, the 100 kW transmitters were on the air for a while at half power.

            During its nearly 36 years of active service, shortwave WYFR was on the air daily with the continuous broadcast of its massive program output that was heard in almost every country of the world.  During this long era, they celebrated four major anniversaries, their 10th, 20th, 25th and 30th.

One of the unique broadcasting arrangements that was implemented by Family Radio was a long series of relay transmissions via major shortwave stations operated by other international radio broadcasting organizations.  The first of these international program relays began without prior announcement on January 1, 1982, under a reciprocal agreement with Radio Taiwan International.  WYFR programming was relayed via RTI, and RTI programming was relayed by WYFR.   

            Over a period of more than 30 years, the international programming of Family Radio was noted on the air via shortwave transmitters owned and operated by a multitude of other shortwave broadcasting organizations at more then 30 different locations on all continents except Australia.  During a special series of test transmissions in 2003 that was arranged by NASB, the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters, two half hour programs compiled by WYFR were broadcast over the original WRMI at Hialeah with 50 kW on 7385 kHz.

            The most unusual relay of WYFR programming had to be over station WTTZ somewhere in Europe.  A listener in Kristiansand Norway reported in 2008 that he was listening to the programing from station WTTZ on 6925 kHz several nights in a row.  The noted American specialist in pirate radio activity, George Zeller, states that he knows nothing about the unauthorized European shortwave station with a fake American callsign, and we can only presume that the WYFR relay via WTTZ was an unauthorized operation by a hobby broadcaster.

            Shortwave station WYFR was always a prolific verifier of reception reports and their QSL cards were issued from their head office in Oakland California.  More than a dozen different QSL cards are known, and if any international radio monitor in some part of the world out there was able to collect at least one card from each design, the tally would be much higher.

            Their  20th anniversary QSL card was quite unique, in that it was in reality a pair of cards.  The photo on the left hand side card featured the studio staff in Oakland California, and the photo on the right hand side card featured the staff at the transmitter station in Okeechobee Florida.  When the two cards are placed side by side, the reading of the text, and the map of the world, are shown as complete.

            The end came mid year 2013, on June 30, to be exact; and the illustrious WYFR was no more.  It was silenced forever, at least under the original callsign.  As we know, the station itself was taken over by Radio Miami International and rejuvenated, and the callsign WRMI was transferred from the 50 kW station in Hialeah to the Okeechobee station with its 14 transmitters.  This station is still the largest privately operated shortwave station in the Western Hemisphere.

            We express appreciation to Dan Elyea, Engineering Manager at WYFR, for information he has provided for this lengthy series of topics on this illustrious shortwave station in Florida.  In addition, he kindly vetted each of the scripts in the series on WYFR to ensure that the information was accurate, and that it presented the story appropriately.  We wish him well for a well-deserved and happy retirement.

            On the next occasion when we take a look at the story of an international shortwave station in the United States, we plan to go back to the beginning, and present the long and interesting history of the shortwave station associated with the famous mediumwave station KDKA in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 326)