Alan Roycroft and the Phantom Revolution

By John Campbell

This article appears here by permission of the author.


Alan Roycroft, who died in February 2001, is probably not known to SW specialists, because his fame comes from MW, but he deserves to be known. For people who are curious about him after reading this piece, there is more information in the many tributes paid to him by New Zealand and Auzstralian DXers in the March 2001 issue of the DX Times (monthly magazine of the NZ Radio DX League, which has a web site at www.radiodx.com), and there have been some instalments of his past history, told in his own colorful style, in several issues to the DX Times.

Alan Roycroft was founder and commanding officer of Broadcast Services Inc., 2877 Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu. He was originally English, and moved to New Zealand with his parents around 1932. He was a radio or radar person (not sure of the exact details) in the New Zealand Air Force during the war, and liked the look of the Pacific region so much that he decided to do something more adventurous than just returning to New Zealand after 1945. Owners of WRTH for the period when it actually contained plenty of real information such as detailed listings of the chief personnel for each of the stations in Hawaii as if it were a separate country may have been puzzled by the fact that each station listing, apart from one or two, said “C.E.: A. Roycroft.” He set up a company to offer them CEmanship, and sold the managements on the idea that they would save money if they gave his company contracts to keep them on the air (an early example of outsourcing). During this time he also made trips to NZ and around the Pacific, and was well known in many islands.

He was Mr. Radio in Hawaii for a long time, a very good guy with some fine stories about radio in the Pacific from 1940 onwards. Here is one such story: When he was returning to Honolulu from a visit to New Zealand, he stopped off at one of the Samoas (American Samoa probably, but I’m not sure) and visited the local MW station. I would guess that this was more likely to have been WVUV than 2AP, because 2AP sounded well maintained whenever I heard it, while WVUV didn’t. The local CE wasn’t much of a transmitter doctor, and while the carrier was OK, the percentage modulation had been falling for a long time. Alan was due out on a plane leaving early next morning, but agreed after an evening out with the CE to be left at the station to see what he could do with the xmtr in exchange for a taxi paid for and booked to get him to the airport.

A parallel history here is that the political boss had the habit of using the radio to soothe himself to sleep at nights, so it would then stay on while he was sleeping and wake him up in the morning. To be able to hear anything with the low modulation, he had the gain control always turned well up. This boss had opponents, and he kept them down by his best approximation to Mussolini methods, e.g. not giving their views any exposure in what passed for the local media.

Alan eventually got the transmitter into what he thought was quite reasonable shape, and decided that he had enough time to give it a quick check before the taxi was due to arrive. Switching it on and letting it warm up was easy enough, but the only way to test the modulation was to put some program material on and listen to it on a receiver in the studio. He looked around for something that he could use, and found a record on somebody’s desk. This was a record of a rousing song in a local style by a local group, and apparently the property of the fellow with the desk rather than of the station. Well, no problem; give it a try.

What Alan didn’t know was that the group was popular because it supported the local opposition, and that this was in fact the opposition’s stirring theme song–banned from radio, naturally, but plenty of private citizens like the fellow with the desk had bought copies.

The result was that the Samoan Mussolini was blown out of bed by the opposition song at full volume and 99% modulation in the middle of his restful slumbers. When he picked himself up off the floor, he figured that there must have been an attempted coup and that the enemy had begun by taking over the radio station. So he immediately started telephoning all his offsiders, calling out the equivalent of the National Guard, etc.

Alan was happy about the test, switched everything off at the end of the song, and went outside just in time for his taxi. He noticed that there was a little more traffic and excitement than usual on the way to the airport, and that it seemed to be building up. But his plane came in on schedule, and he was on his way without problems. He heard later that there was an inquiry which was never able to find any information on exactly what had happened or how it had happened in the phantom revolution.


From the website maintained by Don Moore, Association of North American Radio Clubs DXer of the Year for 1995.

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