Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Saipan Shortwave Station Under Radio Free Asia

The strategically located shortwave station at Agingan Point on the southwest coast of the small Pacific Island of Saipan has been on the air for the past third of a century.  The original concept for the station was the brain child of the Pacific radio entrepreneur Lawrence Berger who initially proposed to co-site a commercial shortwave station with his mediumwave station KUAM on the island of Guam.
The concept of establishing a commercial shortwave station in the Marianas Islands was subsequently transferred from Guam to the island of Saipan, and in December 1982, a new station KYOI was inaugurated with programming in Japanese and English beamed to Japan.  The enthusiastic shortwave boom in Japan during the era of the 1980s began to subside, and thus the commercial venture KYOI was not a financial success.
The station was then sold to Herald Broadcasting of Christian Science in Boston Massachusetts who installed a second shortwave transmitter and a second antenna system, and they operated it under a new callsign KHBI.  This was now the third callsign in this sequence, KUAM KYOI and KHBI. 
A newly organized radio unit in Washington DC, Radio Free Asia RFA, developed an interest in the Saipan radio station for shortwave coverage into several of the countries in Far Eastern Asia. Initially they took out an experimental relay of programming over the Herald Broadcasting station KHBI on the island of Saipan.  That was on September 29, 1996.
Experimental RFA transmissions over KHBI gave way to regular scheduling early the next year (1997).  Then in the middle of the following year (1998), Christian Science in Boston announced that they had reached an agreement with RFA for the sale of the station, and that was ultimately finalized a year later on August 31, 1999. 
At the time of the transfer of ownership from Herald Broadcasting to RFA Radio Free Asia, plans were already underway for the installation of a third transmitter and a third antenna.  The first two transmitters, both at 100 kW, were manufactured by Continental (Model 418D-2), and under Herald Broadcasting they were upgraded to the Model No 418E. 
The new Radio Free Asia installed an additional 100 kW Continental which was designated as Model 418F.  All three of the antennas are slewable curtains (Model 611) with passive reflectors manufactured and installed by TCI in California.
The electrical power supply for the Saipan radio station comes from the commercial island grid, and any need up to 5 megawatt is available.  However, a back up Caterpillar power generator can provide 800 kW during offages of the commercial grid.
Radio Free Asia also indicated that they wished to retain the services of the previous staff who had maintained the operation of the station.  In addition, they agreed also to continue the broadcast of Christian Science programming over the station for a period of 1 year under its new ownership, and ultimately this came to an end one year later. 
On April 13, 2000, Radio Free Asia transferred the lease of the land in Saipan upon which the station had been built to IBB, a legal holding body for other American shortwave stations, including the Voice of America.  However, the operation of both shortwave stations, Saipan and Tinian, was sublet to a commercial company, Rome Research Corporation, in 2006.
Up until its destruction by Supertyphoon Yutu at the end of October last year (2018), the Saipan shortwave station was operated conjointly with the shortwave station on nearby Tinian Island as the  Robert E. Kamosa Transmitting Station.  Robert E. Kamosa, after whom the double station was named, had served in the engineering section of the Voice of America.  He died from disease in 1999 at the age of only 56.
The combined stations on Tinian and Saipan have been operated as a single unit with the main office at the Saipan station.  This total station is operated without callsign as are all other similar stations, such as VOA and Radio Free Europe.
QSL cards for the broadcast of programming from both Tinian and Saipan have been readily available in times past from both Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America.  In fact, Radio Free Asia does not maintain a panel of international radio monitors to provide propagation reports on its shortwave coverage.  Instead, they depend entirely upon listener reception reports within their target areas for this collective information. 
In an endeavor to encourage widespread listener reception reports, RFA offers a new QSL card for each quarter of the year.  And yes, there are indeed some international radio monitors who have collected each of the 69 QSL cards that RFA has so far offered.
As mentioned here in Wavescan previously, the strongest wind storm to ever strike an American territory hit the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday October 24 last year (2018).  This massive storm, Typhoon Yutu, with wind gusts up to 219 miles per hour and sustained winds at 180 miles per hour, was also described as Earth’s strongest storm during the past year 2018. 
As a result of this horrendous impact, the twin Voice of America shortwave stations on both islands, Saipan and Tinian, sustained such massive damage that they were rendered inoperable, for a considerable period of time.  In fact, the damage was so great that the entire future of these two huge shortwave stations has been in jeopardy.
However, we now know that on February 22, (2019) one of the Saipan antennas came back on the air for 11 hours daily, carrying RFA Korean for 5 hours and Mandarin for 6 hours.  And we understand that engineers are continuing to reconstruct the other Saipan antennas as well as those on Tinian.
At the beginning of this mini-series of topics on the story of the Agagingan Point shortwave station on the island of Saipan, we mentioned that this station had been identified with three or four different callsigns.  Yes, and that statement was almost accurate! 
The original location for this projected shortwave station had been on the island of Guam under the callsign KUAM.  The concept for the installation of that projected commercial station was then transferred to the island of Saipan, and when it was erected, it was given the callsign KYOI.  When it was sold to Christian Science, they changed the callsign to KHBI.  The three callsigns that we referred to initially were KUAM KYOI and KHBI.
And what was the possible fourth callsign that we alluded to?  Well, it was not exactly a callsign, it was more of an identification for the station.  When the American government bought the station, it was under the ownership of Radio Free Asia RFA, and it was then frequently identified as RFA Saipan.
(AWR-Wavescan NWS 528)