Friday, September 22, 2017

VOA Mediumwave Stations in the Florida Keys

On a previous occasion here in Wavescan, we presented the story of the short term VOA medium wave relay station that was established on Garden Island in the cluster of keys known as the Dry Tortugas, in the chain of small islands known as the Florida Keys.  This station was subsequently reinstalled on Sugarloaf Key.  The 50 kW transmitter for this station came from the medium wave broadcast station WBAL in Baltimore Maryland, and it operated in the Florida Keys under VOA on 1040 kHz from 1962 to 1966.

            Over a period of time, there were two other radio transmitters in the Dry Tortugas Islands and these were installed on Garden Island and Loggerhead Key.  The seven keys and associated islets and rocks in the Dry Tortugas are these days clustered together into a United States National Park at the western end of the Florida Keys. 

            Wireless station RF was installed in Fort Jefferson on Garden Island in 1902, and it was in use for just seven years.  The reason for its closure was the difficulty in providing logistical support for personnel serving on the isolated Garden Key, and also the cost of providing all of this necessary support.

            There was another radio station in the Dry Tortugas, and this was installed in the Radio Room at the base of the Dry Tortugas Lighthouse on Loggerhead Key, three miles west of Fort Jefferson.  The Dry Tortugas Lighthouse on Loggerhead Key stood 150 ft tall and its light could be seen 35 miles distant.

            The first radio beacon in Florida, as a wireless guide for passing shipping, was established on Loggerhead Key on December 21, 1927.  A small communication transmitter was installed in the Radio Room at the lighthouse and this was on the air on 3410 kHz under the callsign WST.

            Another VOA medium wave relay station was installed on Sister’s Creek Island in Marathon Key and it was taken into regular service on November 12, 1962.  This VOA station was made up of three transportable vans with a three tower antenna array, and the normal operating frequency of its 50 kW transmitter was 1180 kHz.  However, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the previous month of October, this station was temporarily on the air on 1040 kHz, the same channel as the other VOA station on Garden Island.

            During the year 1982, the United States navy constructed another 50 kW medium radio station  with four antenna towers at its communication center on Saddlebunch Key.  Seven years later, during a massive rebuilding of the VOA station on Sister’s Island-Marathon Key, the Saddlebunch station took over the regular VOA-Radio Marti programming that was beamed to Cuba..

            During the Cuban crisis, which was precipitated by the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later in 1991, approval was granted for the usage of the full power output of 100 kW from VOA Marathon.  The output from the twin 50 kW Continental transmitters was combined to provide the power level of 100 kW.

            A new transmitter complement at 100 kW was installed in 2008, and during the following year new antenna towers were erected.

            In our two part series on the medium wave VOA relay stations in the Florida Keys, we have presented the story of four different stations.  These have been:-

Garden Key                50 kW  1040 kHz        1962 Oct  till    1962 Dec        WBAL transmitter
 Sugarloaf Key             50        1040                1963 Jan         1966                WBAL transmitter
 Marathon Key             50        1180                1962 Nov        1989                Sister’s Creek Island
                                   100        1180                1996                2017                Rebuilt station
Saddlebunch Key       50        1180                1989                1996                Marathon rebuild        
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 446)