Barbados in the Caribbean: The Royal Visit and the Radio Scene

According to recent news items out of the Caribbean, the world’s newest independent republic celebrated its new status with flag ceremonies, a 21 gun salute, official speeches, and general merrymaking during the midnight hours of Monday November 29 and the early morning hours of Tuesday November 30 (2021).  The island of Barbados lies towards the southern end of the long arc of small islands that separate the Caribbean from the Atlantic Ocean, and its quarter million people have chosen to replace Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2 of Great Britain with their own appointed president, Her Excellency The Most Honorable Dame Sandra Mason, a prominent lawyer in the High Court of Barbados.

The 72 year old Sandra Mason served Barbados previously as the Governor-General, as a representative of the British monarchy.  She has one son Matthew who is also an attorney-at-law.

The island of Barbados came under the influence of English colonialism almost 400 years ago.  Then in 1966 Barbados assumed full independence, and just a little over a month ago, they severed their last legal ties with the British crown.  However, Barbados has chosen to retain its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, a free association of countries that were formerly part of the British Empire.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2 was represented at the independence celebrations on Barbados by her first born son and Heir Apparent to the British throne, His Excellency Charles, the Prince of Wales.  

Barbados officially became a republic early Tuesday morning, casting off Elizabeth II as head of state and swearing in Sandra Mason as the country’s new president. Smithsonian Magazine.
Barbados leaves colonial history behind and becomes a republic. The Guardian.

1. Cable & Wireless

We look now at the seven eras of wireless and radio on the Island of Barbados, and we present them in chronological order.  It was back at the beginning of what became Word War 1 that the British government installed a new wireless station on Barbados, at a specific location known as  St. Ann’s Fort.  This original station, VPO, was closed after the end of the Great War (1919), and a new station was built at The Reef five years later, in 1924.

This new station was inaugurated under the same callsign VPO, though subsequently the call became the more familiar ZNX.  There were several major occasions when station ZNX was noted in the United States with the broadcast of special radio programming. 

Letterhead detail from the Barbados station sent in 1952 © David Webber Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

In 1943, another new location was chosen for that important radio communication station, and an English made Marconi transmitter was installed.  That unit had been partly installed in the planned BBC relay station on the island of Singapore in 1939, but because of the war in Asia, it was removed and re-installed at Boarded Hall on Barbados. There were occasions also when that transmitter was in use for the relay of special programming to the BBC in London.

Long deactivated speaker for Rediffusion located at the police station in Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados. – Wikipedia

2. Cable Radio

A system of program distribution that we would today call cable radio was installed on Barbados in 1935.  Programming was taken from shortwave reception of the BBC London, as well as from American and Canadian shortwave stations.  There were occasional major events on Barbados when special local programming was produced, and sometimes these broadcasts were also transmitted by shortwave ZNX.  The Cable Radio system was closed in 1997, at the end of 62 years as a valuable community programming service.

3. Amateur Radio Broadcasting Service

For a period of half a dozen years in the era immediately prior to the beginning of World War 2, an amateur radio station, VP6YB, was noted in the United States with the broadcast of special event programming.  Also included in those special remote broadcasts were the summer sports events between various Cricket Teams in the Caribbean.  Just before the beginning of the War, station VP6YB was also noted with the broadcast of a news bulletin each evening.

QSL card from VP6YB 1937 Barbados
Operator: Thomas Archer was V1YB in 1930
Courtesy of W8KPB, NG6W, hamgallery.com

4. Mediumwave Broadcasting Era

Verification letter from CBC confirming reception of their 900 kHz station in New Zealand in 1979.
© David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

The first mediumwave station on Barbados was launched by the Barbados Broadcasting Corporation CBC on December 16, 1963, with 10 kW at Black Rock on the split frequency 795 kHz.  A dozen years later, the operating frequency was changed to a regular channel at 900 kHz, though still with the same 10 kW power output.  This mediumwave station CBC was still on the air until quite recently, as one of the few mediumwave stations still on the air in the Caribbean.

A second mediumwave station was licensed in Barbados in 1979, with the intent of establishing a commercial operation as the Voice of Barbados.  Two years later (1981), the new mediumwave station was inaugurated at the C&W transmitter facility at Bearded Hall with 20 kW on 790 kHz.  Then, when that commercial organization changed from mediumwave to FM transmission, the mediumwave unit was taken over for full time Gospel programming.  However, that also was closed, more than a dozen years ago.

5. FM Broadcasting

The FM era of radio broadcasting on the Caribbean island of Barbados actually began in 1971, when an FM service was introduced as a program feeder from the studios in Bridgetown, the national capital, to the transmitter at Black Rock, a distance of about 10 miles.  However as time went by, people began listening to the programing over the FM communication transmitter, and thus half a dozen years later, a specific FM service was introduced.  These days, there are a couple of dozen FM stations on the air in Barbados.

6. Tourist Shortwave Service

Actually, the sixth broadcasting era on the island of Barbados, never actually existed.  During the year 1998, the Chairman of the Barbados Broadcasting Authority, Mr. Carl Moose, called for the establishment of a reliable international shortwave service that would serve two purposes: Encourage international tourism to Barbados, and provide information for Barbadian citizens abroad.  At least one application for this suggested shortwave service was lodged with the government licensing authority, but the request was withdrawn before a license was issued.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of January 9, 2022

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