Friday, October 27, 2017

Shortwave broadcasting in the Caribbean Islands

         At the present time, relief and recovery are underway on the many islands in the Caribbean that were devastated by the recent string of hurricanes that swept through the area.  However at the same time, there is a lot of turmoil and chaos due to the destruction of so much of the basic infrastructure in these islands, with the lack of availability of necessities and commodities, such as food, water, gasoline,  electricity, and even satisfactory accommodation.  

            In today’s edition of the AWR DX program Wavescan, we again focus on the radio scene in the Caribbean as a tribute to the people who live in these islandic countries.  We present our opening topic under the title, International Shortwave Broadcasting in the Caribbean Islands, the story of six major shortwave stations in the Caribbean, and we begin with the earliest, Radio Antilles on the Island of Montserrat.

            On April 20, 1963, the Radio Antilles Corporation was formed, and five months later the government granted a radio broadcasting license.  Much of the electronic equipment for the Montserrat station came from the previous Radio Africa in Tangier, Morocco and it was installed and operated with co-operation from the staff of Radio Andorra in Europe.

            Some eight years later (1971), Radio Deutsche Welle DW in Germany injected a massive cash flow into Radio Antilles, and as a major shareholder/new owner of the station they took over the operation of the large facility.  When DW engineers arrived on Montserrat in 1971, they found two shortwave transmitters at 15 kW each already installed.  They soon afterwards installed an additional shortwave transmitter at 50 kW among the medium wave transmitters on the ground floor of the two story building on the lower south west coast of the island of Montserrat. 

In March 1977, Radio Antilles was taken into regular service as a relay station for the programming of Deutsche Welle in Cologne Germany and for the BBC in London England.  However, just four years later (1981), the BBC withdrew from their usage of Radio Antilles, and eight years later again (1989), Deutsche Welle Montserrat was closed.  Soon afterwards, the electronic equipment was removed from the isolated country building, and the building was ultimately inundated by lava overflow from a nearby volcano, so much so, that the exact location of the building is now indiscernible.

            However at the same time as Radio Antilles was under development as a relay station for Deutsche Welle and the BBC, a new joint operation was under installation on the nearby island of Antigua.  The development of this new international shortwave relay station was staged under the auspices of a joint holding company, the Caribbean Relay Company. 

            After a series of surveys on several of the Leeward and Windward Islands, Antigua was chosen because of its strategic location, together with sufficiently level ground that would be satisfactory for a large antenna farm.  A tract of land, 240 acres, was procured near Seaview Farm in the center of the island of Antigua.

            The BBC designed and constructed the transmitter station, they installed 4 Marconi transmitters at 250 kW each Model BD272, and they erected 7 antenna towers supporting 18 curtain antennas.  The locally available electrical power was somewhat unreliable, so the BBC installed 5 electrical power generators, each a Ruston at 1 megawatt, which was sufficient to power the entire station with 1 always available on standby.

            The first transmitter was taken into service on November 1, 1976, and the other three were activated during the following year (1977).   Original planning called for 2 transmitters and 9 antennas each, for the BBC and DW.  However, as the scheduling was developed and implemented as time went by, it appears that the programming of both shortwave organizations, the BBC and DW, was carried by all 4 of the transmitters, though at approximately half time each. 

            Due to budget cuts, the BBC-DW relay station on Antigua was closed on March 26, 2005.  Initially, the Caribbean Relay Station endeavored to find other clients who were willing to broadcast to the Americas from their shortwave station.  However, there are no known additional relays from the Antigua station, and all that we can presume is that all usable equipment was removed and the property was sold off.  

            We cross over now to the Dutch islands in the Caribbean, and in particular to Curacao and Bonaire.  Around the year 1960, Trans World Radio TWR gave consideration to constructing a large shortwave/mediumwave station on the island of Curacao.  However, the entire project was soon afterwards transferred to the nearby island of Bonaire.

            Construction at TWR Bonaire began in September 1963, and the first test broadcasts on shortwave began almost a year later in August 1964.  The very first shortwave frequency for the new TWR was 5955 kHz under the official Dutch callsign PJB.    

            Beginning in November 1964, the new Bonaire shortwave station broadcast the programming from Trans World Radio and it also relayed programming from Radio Netherlands in Hilversum Holland.  However, Radio Netherlands ended their relay via TWR soon after their own shortwave station on Bonaire was inaugurated.

            On June 30, 1993, TWR closed down the usage of their two shortwave transmitters on Bonaire, one at 50 kW and another at 250 kW, and shipped them off to Swaziland for incorporation into their African shortwave station.  However, in various configurations, a mediumwave station at TWR has remained on the air on Bonaire, and the space that was previously occupied by the shortwave transmitters now houses power generators that provide electricity for the island.  

            Test transmissions from the new relay station operated by Radio Netherlands on the island of Bonaire began in March 1969.  At the height of its total capability RN Bonaire contained 3 shortwave transmitters at 250/300 kW, 21 antennas on 17 towers, and 6 power generators at 500 kW each.

            However, with the changing winds of fortune in the international shortwave world, Radio Netherlands Bonaire was closed on June 30, 2012.  The station was totally dismantled and all that remains of this once majestic shortwave station is just an open field. 

            Radio Havana Cuba was organized as a government operated international shortwave facility in 1963.  At that stage, 4 shortwave transmitters at 100 kW were installed at their shortwave station at Bauta near Havana, 2 from Russia and 2 from BBC (Brown Boveri Company) Switzerland.  These days, Radio Havana Cuba operates a total of 3 shortwave sites with 16 shortwave transmitters rated at 50 kW, 100 kW and 250 kW.

            The shortwave station known as the Caribbean Beacon is located on the island of Anguilla, a small British island in the eastern Caribbean.  In June 1991, Dr. Gene Scott bought the mediumwave station Caribbean Beacon, and he installed a new Continental 100 kW shortwave transmitter at the same Sandy Hill site.  The antenna system was previously in use with shortwave KGEI at Belmont in California.  

            The new shortwave Caribbean Beacon was inaugurated in December 1996, though it was hounded by subsequent local fears about radiation problems for more than a year.  During the year 2008, the shortwave station previously on the air under the callsigns KUSW and then KTBN was closed and the electronic equipment was shipped to Anguilla for incorporation into the Caribbean Beacon.

            As we mentioned previously here in Wavescan, the Caribbean Beacon was damaged in the recent hurricanes that swept through the Caribbean islands.  The station has since been noted back on the air with test broadcasts, and it is doing its best to maintain its international shortwave service.   

            This has been the story of six international shortwave stations in the Caribbean.  A total of four have come and gone: Deutsche Welle-BBC Montserrat and Antigua, Trans World Radio and Radio Netherlands on Bonaire.  Two still remain: Radio Havana Cuba with 16 transmitters, and the Caribbean Beacon on Anguilla with 1 at 100 kW, hanging on tenuously after the onslaught of the recent hurricanes.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS)