Monday, February 08, 2016

VOA Radio Stations in the United States: Gone and Forgotten

Back in the year 1949, consideration was given to the implementation of a massive project for reliable worldwide coverage on behalf of the Voice of America.  This huge expansion project was identified as the Ring Plan, and it called for large new shortwave relay stations to be located in several countries overseas, and also for a total of six large new shortwave stations in the continental United States. 
            The six new home based shortwave stations were to be developed under six Project names: Baker 1 East, Baker 2 West, King, Tare, Uncle and Victor.   Electronic equipment was purchased and work was begun on the two separate sites for Project Baker East and Project Baker West, though the four remaining Projects were deleted completely when work on the two Baker Projects was cancelled in March 1953.
            This is the story of the two projected Baker stations which we present in Wavescan today, under the title: Two Voice of America Radio Stations in the United States; Gone and Forgotten.
            The intention in the Ring Plan was for the two stations under Project Baker to be established, one somewhere on the east coast of the United States and the other somewhere on the west coast. Each station would contain six shortwave transmitters at 500 kW and two at 100 kW, though subsequently the power rating of the 100 kW units was changed for 250 kW.  Several of these high powered shortwave transmitters, Continental 500 kW Model 420A and GE Model 4BT250A, were already procured and placed in storage in Brooklyn, New York.
            The twin purposes for establishing these two new shortwave stations was to improve direct reception for listeners across the Atlantic and across the Pacific, and also to provide a reliable off air program relay to the VOA relay stations that were already providing coverage in the desired target areas.  In addition, the two home based shortwave stations could be called upon to provide auxiliary coverage to listeners in target areas if a relay station out there was for some reason taken off the air.
            Three major organizations were commissioned to produce site studies for these two new home based international radio stations: The National Bureau of Standards (WWV), RCA, and the American Army Signal Corps.  Several locations along the eastern seaboard were given serious consideration as possible sites for the shortwave station under Project Baker East, and an initial report suggested the suitability of Puerto Rico, and either Maine or Florida.
            A subsequent report in May 1951 settled upon two suitable options, one in Puerto Rico and the other at Cape Hatteras in the outer banks of North Carolina.  However at the end of that same year (1951) the Voice of America announced that the new location for Baker East would be near East Arcadia, 25 miles north east of Wilmington, due mainly to the difficulties in local logistics at Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks.
            The Wilmington Morning Star of January 29 in the New Year (1952) announced proudly on its front page that this new VOA radio station, one of the most powerful in the world, would be located in Carver’s Creek township, in Bladen County, on the south side of Highway 87.  The federal government had taken out an option on 4½ square miles, and all 2828 acres had already been procured.  The whole project would cost a mighty $7 million. 
            Work began almost immediately clearing the afforested area, draining and leveling the land, and carving a good quality dirt road into the property.  Construction work for the antenna systems began with the pouring of cement for the base pilings.
            Then on January 18, 1953, work came to an abrupt halt on preliminary site preparation for the big new radio station near East Arcadia at a summary cost of $460,000.
            Meanwhile, similar events were taking place over on the Pacific coast for the big new station under the Baker West Project.  Initially three sites were recommended for serious consideration, Seattle in Washington state, Alaska, and southern California, and it was stated that Seattle would be better than somewhere in the Los Angeles area.
            In December 1951, VOA stated that their attention had been narrowed down to two possible locations: Copalis on the Washington coast, a few miles north of the inlet known as North Bay, and Dungeness Point opposite Victoria on the Canadian Vancouver Island.  Ultimately Dungeness was chosen and the federal government State Department began immediate proceedings to acquire more than 1,000 acres from a total of thirteen owners, a property a little larger than the East Arcadia property for Baker East.
            Work began quite quickly in removing buildings and fences, and in clearing and leveling the land for the big new radio station.  Then, at the beginning of the New Year 1953, work on preliminary site preparation for this big new radio station near Dungeness Point also came to an abrupt halt, at a summary cost of $350,000.
            These two projected VOA shortwave stations fell victim to the machinations of the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy and his now berated Congressional hearings.  The twin Projects, Baker East and Baker West were officially cancelled in March 1953. 
            So what happened to all of the procured equipment still in storage?  And what happened to the two transmitter sites that were under active preparation?
            Six of the high powered 500 kW Continental transmitters were later installed at the subsequent and even larger shortwave station at Greenville South Carolina; two of the 100 kW transmitters were shipped out to the Philippines and installed at the VOA relay base at Poro Point; and the remaining units, 2 @ 500 kW and 2 at 100 kW were sold off.
            The VOA Baker East property near East Arcadia was sold off and it is now just open farm land.  It is probable that this site can be viewed on Google Earth at 34 22 04 29 N & 78 21 28 05 W.
            The VOA Baker West property at Dungeness Point was offered for buy back to its original owners, some of whom accepted the opportunity.  Today, part of this property is in use as an open housing estate, and another part was taken over as a tourist attraction, the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge. This site can also be viewed on Google Earth at 48 08 18 19 N & 123 11 08 39 W. 

            Entrance to this site is memorialized in the name for the access roadway.  This road, running into the northern edge of the property, is named Voice of America Road, a tribute to what might have become one of America’s largest shortwave broadcasting stations.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 363-Adrian Peterson)