Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A closer look at Radio Earth and the path to WRMI

Jeff:    In our historical feature on April 7th about shortwave broadcasting in the U.S. state of Texas, we mentioned at the end that KCBI broadcast a delayed relay of the early DX program from Adventist World Radio in Poona, India.  The program title at the time was “Radio Monitors International”, the AWR studios were located in suburban Poona, and the broadcast from station KCBI was on the air under the auspices of Radio Earth for a few weeks in October 1985.

Radio Earth QSL
 It occurred to us that we have never done a feature on Radio Earth, and that it's a very interesting story that really deserves to be told because in part, it’s the story of how I first became involved in shortwave radio as anything more than a listener.  In a way, it also charts the path of how I got to where I am today with WRMI.  Ray Robinson in Los Angeles has the background.

 Ray:   Thanks, Jeff.

 The idea for Radio Earth began in 1978 with a conversation between Jeff White and John Beebe, who at the time were both college students in DeKalb, Illinois.  They also both worked part-time as radio news reporters for WNIU-FM in DeKalb.  One day when they were sitting around the newsroom chatting, they discovered they were both shortwave listeners, and John was intrigued by Jeff’s idea of creating a commercial shortwave station.

 They began seriously researching what it would take to start such a station, and enlisted the help of two friends:

·        Michael Poulos, who was a lawyer in Evanston, Illinois, and

·        John Freberg, who was chief engineer at WNIU-FM.

 Over the course of the next five years, they spent thousands of hours researching in public libraries, writing and re-writing reports and proposals, and meeting with many people about advertising, engineering, legal and programming matters that would need to be worked out.

 Their goal was to put a commercial SW station in the Caribbean to broadcast worldwide.  They got verbal permission from Montserrat to put in seven 100 kW transmitters and seven TCI log periodic antennas beamed in different directions.  Then of course they needed to find investors, which proved very difficult.


Rudy Espinal, director of the shortwave service of Radio Clarin in the Dominican Republic, joined the Radio Earth team, and he was very helpful in securing an agreement to carry the Radio Earth programming via Radio Clarin’s 50 kW shortwave transmitter in Santo Domingo, to avoid them having to build out their own station in Montserrat before they could even start broadcasting.

 Then in May 1983, Radio Earth was successful in securing advertising contracts from the Curaçao Tourist Bureau and also Holding Company Curaçao, which owns several hotels.  So, they decided to set up a studio on that Dutch-owned island in the southern Caribbean, where they could record their flagship program entitled “The World”, and then ship tapes up to Santo Domingo for broadcast each day (Monday-Saturday) over Radio Clarin’s shortwave transmitter on 11700 kHz.

 Jeff White agreed to go to Curaçao to present the program, but since it would take more than one person to produce a top-quality one-hour show every day, they also persuaded Matt Bell, another former WNIU newsman turned radio producer, to go along.  They sent studio equipment from Chicago to Curaçao, and set it up in the Curaçao Hilton hotel.

 Matt and Jeff ended up co-presenting the show, which consisted of:

·        a variety of feature reports and interviews,

·        segments contributed by David Monson in Europe,

·        a mailbag show on Fridays, and

·        a Saturday communications-oriented segment called “Dialogue”.

 Once the tapes arrived in Santo Domingo, Rudy Espinal inserted up-to-the-minute newscasts and also added a locally-produced regional music program called “This is the Caribbean.”

 At the beginning of each edition of “The World”, they mentioned that Radio Earth was not affiliated with any political or religious organization, and that their funding came entirely from the sale of commercial advertising.

It was a jam-packed hour, and very eclectic, with Jeff and Matt talking informally with the listeners and with each other.  They didn’t read scripts.  They described their philosophy as being simple “people-to-people communication”, to promote understanding, friendship and goodwill.  They tried each day to “present the world to the world”, in a unique, interesting, entertaining and unbiased manner.  The response from shortwave listeners was incredible, but in spite of that, they still had trouble getting and keeping sponsors.


At the end of 1983, Radio Earth moved from Radio Clarin to WRNO, “The Rock of New Orleans”, where it was heard on 6185 kHz at 0400 UTC Winter/0300 UTC Summer.  The studios were moved back to the United States, and set up in Miami, with an address of Box 69, Miami, Florida, 33243.

 Unfortunately, during the summer of 1984 they had some disagreements with Joe Costello at WRNO, and ended up moving back to Radio Clarin from Monday 24th September 1984.  Here’s an off-air audio clip of a very young-sounding Jeff White presenting the start of the mailbag program the previous Friday night, 21st September 1984, via WRNO.

 So Jeff White relocated for awhile to Santo Domingo to present Radio Earth programs live from that location.  Radio Earth was later carried by KCBI in Texas, WHRI in Indiana, and by a couple of European shortwave stations.


 They still wanted to put their own station on the air, and Curaçao was willing to give them both a license and a place to put the station.  But, they were never able to raise enough money to do that.

 To cut a long story short, Jeff left Radio Earth in 1985 to focus on some other shortwave ventures, including Radio Discovery in Santo Domingo.  After that, he moved back to Miami and started freelancing as a news reporter for several other shortwave stations.  He also began brokering airtime on Radio Clarin, KCBI, WHRI and WWCR, which is the back story to the comment referenced in the introduction to this piece today, where it was stated that the AWR RMI program (the forerunner to Wavescan) was heard over station KCBI under the auspices of Radio Earth for a few weeks in October 1985.  Jeff had helped place that program on KCBI.

 Through his program brokering side-line, Jeff was contacted by some Cuban exile organizations who wanted to broadcast on shortwave to Cuba.  Eventually, he connected with an engineer affiliated with the Cuban American National Foundation, which wanted to start its own shortwave station.  But, they had problems getting a license, so they asked the engineer and Jeff to try making a joint application to the FCC, which was successful, and that became the original WRMI in Hialeah, about 5 miles northwest of downtown Miami.  And we all know what that’s grown into.  The rest, as they say, is history.

 So, way to go, Jeff, on eventually achieving your vision of owning and operating a very successful commercial shortwave radio station!

(QSLs via Teak Publishing QSL Archives)