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Radio Vila: The First Shortwave Era In the South Pacific Islands of Vanuatu

The island called Efate is the third largest island in the exotic South Pacific nation of New Hebrides/Vanuatu, though it has the largest population (70,000), and it is also the capital city island. The capital city, Port Vila, is located at the center on the south west side of this irregularly shaped square island. Currently, there are no cases of the China Virus in Vanuatu; and Vanuatu is in the process of phasing out the usage of all types of throw away plastic containers.
Back two hundred years ago, Frenchman Ferdinand Chevillard procured several large tracts of land on Efate Island with the intent of establishing a very large colonial plantation; but instead it grew into a settlement that became known as Franceville. In August 1889, the municipality of Franceville with all of its 550 citizens declared its independence from France and England, with its own red white and blue flag, and five stars in a small circle. One of the community’s presidents was Mr. R. D. Polk, a relative of the American president James K. Polk. In the process of time, Franceville became Port Vila.
During the Pacific War, the American forces established a large base on Efate, together with smaller contingents of armed forces from Australia and New Zealand. In recent time, episodes of the popular Survivor program (American, French and Australian versions), have been filmed on Efate Island.
On Efate, and throughout Vanuatu, there are three official languages; English, French and Bislama. Bislama is a recently created creole language, and it is stated that if you are fluent in English, then you will understand Bislama quite well, if you listen carefully.
Port Vila is on the southern side of Mele Bay, and on the northern side of the bay is a small tourist island known as Mele Island, or Hideaway Island. This island is an international tourist resort which is owned by the islanders themselves, though it is leased commercially to the Hideaway Island Resort.
Nearby to Mele/Hideaway island in the shallow waters is an underwater post office, the first anywhere in the world. You can buy water resistant postcards and postage stamps on land, and then you can make a shallow dive to the post office and post your unique postcard to any address anywhere in the world. This Vanuatu Underwater Post Office was installed in 2003; and since then, similar underwater post offices have been installed in Japan, Norway and Malaysia.
Back in early August 1961, international radio monitors in New Zealand and Australia noted a series of test transmissions on 3955 kHz coming from Radio Vila in the New Hebrides. These special broadcasts included test announcements in English, together with local and English recorded music.
Radio Vila was a communication station located on the Malapoa Peninsula on the north side of Port Vila city. The transmitter was a 250 watt communication unit that was normally in use for inter-island communication as well as with nearby shipping. Subsequent test transmissions were carried out on 3277 kHz.
These irregular test broadcasts were on the air in the early evenings and they were noted in both New Zealand and Australia. The announcer made request for reception reports, and he requested also a comparison with shortwave transmissions from other shortwave stations in the South Pacific, including Suva Fiji and Noumea New Caledonia.
These spasmodic test broadcasts were a preliminary for establishing a new radio broadcasting service in the New Hebrides, and they extended into the New Year 1963. Then there was a silence, for more than four years.
However in December 1965, an Advisory Committee submitted a document to the British Resident Commissioner, containing suggested plans for the introduction of a new radio broadcasting service. Thus a small studio was installed in the Malapoa College, a new school that had been recently established for the benefit of children of English and French parentage. Programming was recorded on tape which was then delivered to the nearby transmitter site.
The auspicious date for the inauguration of this new Radio Vila Broadcasting Service was August 2, 1966; and then it was on the air twice each day, on four days only, Tuesday – Friday. The midday service was transmitted on 7260 kHz, and the early evening service was on 3905 kHz. The signal from the 500 watt communication transmitter was fed into a simple dipole antenna.
The first listing of official callsigns appeared in the WR(TV)HB for the following year (1967), and these were: YJB3 1 kW 3277 kHz, YJB4 ½ kW 3905 kHz, and YJB7 ½ kW 7260 kHz. The official callsign prefix for Vanuatu is YJB, and the suffix number indicates the MHz band. (The usage of official callsigns was dropped a quarter of a century later in 1993.)
Four years after the inauguration of the shortwave station, TBC (Television Broadcasting Corporation of Berkeley Vale in New South Wales) installed an Australian made AWA 2 kW transmitter at the Malapoa shortwave station in Vanuatu. This new facility was inaugurated on Christmas Eve 1971.
Give another quarter century (1995), and a new location was chosen for a new set of equipment for the shortwave service from Radio Vanuatu; and that will be the story next time (Adrian Peterson, IN, script for AWR Wavescan May 10)

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