Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Radio Scene on the Largest Tropical Island in the Caribbean

The Cuba Story - Part 1

Quite recently, Pope Francis from the Vatican made an official visit to the island of Cuba in the Caribbean.  Let us catch up on some of these interesting events, and we take a look at the early wireless and radio scene in Cuba.
            According to the encyclopedia, Cuba is 120 miles across, 777 miles long, and it covers an area of 111,111 square kilometers.  In addition to the main island, there are more than 4,000 smaller islands and cays, including Juventud, or the Isle of Pines, with its 100,000 people.  The total population for Cuba these days is 12 million.
            If you fly over the island, you will admire its lush tropical scenery, with its tree covered towering mountains, and rolling hills and broad grasslands and deep bays with sandy beaches and colorful coral reefs.  Even to this day, it is a chosen destination for multitudes of tourists coming in from Canada, Europe and other countries in the Americas.
            In the pre-colonial era, Cuba was home to several Amerindian tribes who had migrated in from North America, Central America and South America.  On October 28, 1492 the famous Atlantic explorer Christopher Columbus landed on the northeastern shore of Cuba, claiming the island for Spain, and naming it Isla Juana.  The subsequent name for the island, Cuba, comes from the local Taino language, and it conveys the meaning of a pleasant land.
            Eight years later, Sebastian de Ocampo circumnavigated Cuba, thus confirming that it is indeed an island.  Then three years later again, the first Spanish settlement was founded on the very eastern tip of the island.  Give four more years (1515), and the settlement of San Cristobal de la Habana was founded.  At one stage, Havana was the third largest city in the Americas, and as we know, it has since become their national capital.
            Over the centuries, Cuba has been invaded by armed forces from France, Holland, England, and the United States; and on five separate occasions, the United States has attempted to buy Cuba from Spain.  For a decade or so around a century ago, the United States governed the island as an American territory, but in 1920, the island was granted independence.
            The first wireless stations in Cuba were installed more than 100 years ago; and the first two stations were installed at Mariel, 25 miles west of Havana and on the Isle of Pines-Juventud.  In 1924, a total of 9 wireless stations were on the air in communication service in Cuba, and each was identified with a callsign in the consecutive series, PWA, PWB, PWC, etc.
            The beginnings of radio broadcasting in Cuba can be traced back to the year 1912 when the American electrician Frank Jones migrated to the island to serve in the cane sugar industry at Tuinucu in the center of the island.  Soon afterwards, he constructed his own amateur wireless station, a 2 kW spark facility.
            In December 1921, Frank Jones ordered an assortment of radio equipment from the United States, and when it all finally arrived at his country location, he assembled it into a radio broadcasting station.  This new amateur radio broadcasting station was planned for operation on a wavelength of approximately 300 meters (1000 kHz).  The aerial was a 200 ft long inverted L, the earthing system was a full sized above ground counterpoise, and the electric power came from the generating plant that he himself was supervising at the cane sugar farm.
            When callsigns in Cuba were first issued, the Frank Jones station at Tuinucu was allocated initially the call 5KW, though only a week later this was amended to 6KW.  He also operated his radio station in the amateur mode under the callsign 6XJ.
            The radio programs over amateur broadcasting station 6KW were heard widely in the Americas, as well as in Europe and occasionally across the Pacific.  His QSL cards in response to the huge inflow of reception reports, a generic card giving technical details of the station, were issued by the hundreds, and they are sometimes available for purchase on Ebay to this day.  
            In 1930, the callsign for the Tuinucu station was listed as CM6KW.  Then later in the same year, the amateur broadcasting station gave way to a fully licensed station in Tuinucu, CMHC with 500 watts on 790 kHz.
            Another significant early broadcasting station in Cuba was inaugurated in 1920 by Luis Casas Romero as an amateur station in Havana under the callsign 2LC.  Two years later on August 22 (1922), this station began an irregular schedule of program broadcasting on 810 kHz with equipment provided by the American electronic conglomerate IT&T.  This station signed on for its evening broadcasts at 9:00 pm with the ticking of a clock, the firing of the canon La Cabana, followed by a bulletin of weather information.
            During the following year, the callsign was amended to Q2LC due to a change in international radio regulations.  Interestingly, we might say that the initial Q identified the island Quba!
            Around this era, an official radio broadcasting station was installed in the capital city, Havana.  This new facility was established by the Cuban Telephone Company which was owned by another American electronic conglomerate, AT&T.
            At the time, AT&T procured three 500 watt mediumwave transmitters from Western Electric; one for installation as WEAF in New York City, another for installation in Puerto Rico, and a third for installation in Havana.  The Havana station was installed in the Cuban Telephone Company building at Zulueta and Dragones Streets under the callsign PWX, where the two towers stood as highly visible electronic icons for many years.
            This station was inaugurated in a special broadcast beginning at 4:00 pm on Tuesday October 10, 1922.  The Cuban President, Alfredo de Mayas y Alfonso, presented an inaugural speech in English, and Luis Casas Romero conducted a special orchestra in the presidential palace with classical and Cuban music.  The programming for this first special broadcast in Cuba was sent to station WEAF in New York by cable and phone lines for broadcast city wide on local mediumwave. 
            In actual fact, this inaugural broadcast in Havana on 750 kHz was produced more for the benefit of the American audience rather than the Cuban audience.  At the time, there were no more than a hundred radio receivers in Havana.
            Interestingly, the programming from the Luis Casas Romero station 2LC was at times taken on relay for broadcast over the new PWX.  During the following year (1923), a total of 30 mediumwave stations were on the air in Cuba,

            On January 1, 1930, station PWX was given a new regularized callsign along with all other mediumwave broadcasting station on the island due to new international radio regulations, and PWX became CMQ.