Bird Calls on Radio


Preliminary experimental shortwave broadcasting in Italy began in the mid 1920s with the use of two low powered communication transmitters near Rome with the callsigns IAX and IAY.  Under the direction of their own legendary radio pioneer, Guglielmo Marconi, a shortwave broadcasting station was developed at Prato Smeraldo, again just outside Rome, and a little to the south.

Two shortwave transmitters at 25 kW each were installed and these were officially opened on July 1, 1930 as 2RO.  Four years later again (1934), two more similar transmitters were installed at the Prato Smeraldo Shortwave Station.  However all shortwave transmissions were discontinued on October 1, 2007, at the end of its illustrious broadcasting history extending over more than 80 years.

At the sign on for each shortwave transmission RAI played the delightful sound of a bird followed by their theme music.  It is suggested that the Bird Call as heard from the RAI shortwave service is from their national bird, the Italian Sparrow.

RAI International (Vintage – 2007). Interval Signals Online,

Male Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae). Loz (L. B. Tettenborn), CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
RAI QSL card from 1972. © Chris Mackerell Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation


There are two stories about the Bird Signal from Radio Baghdad.  One story states that the German government gave a gift to the royal family in Iraq in 1936, and that gift was a mechanical singing bird which is on display in the Iraqi Media Museum in Baghdad.  Back then, a recording of that unique bird signal was then introduced as the tuning signal for the sign on routine of Radio Baghdad.

The second story states that when Radio Baghdad was inaugurated back on July 1, 1936, the call of a live Bulbul Bird was broadcast for five minutes each morning as the opening tuning signal.

However after the Bulbul Bird died, the king granted Bagdad Radio the use of a mechanical Bulbul Bird that he had previously bought in London.  The Bulbul Bird is better known as the Nightingale.

The first shortwave tests in Iraq were carried out by an English Air Force officer in 1924.  Then in 1940, the government of Iraq opened a new 5 kW shortwave station at Baghdad during the year 1940.  That station identified on air under several callsigns, such as  HNE, HNK, and HNI, depending upon which frequency was in use.

Iraqi Media Network – Republic of Iraq Radio. Interval Signals Online,

Iraqi Media Network – Radio Iraqia. Interval Signals Online,

A little known piece of Iraqi history at the new Iraqi Media Museum: this mechanical singing bird was presented by Adolph Hitler to King Ghazi on the opening of Iraqi state radio in 1936. A recording of its song still opens state radio broadcasts. Photo: Jane Arraf on Twitter
Radio Baghdad QSL card from 1973. © Chris Mackerell Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation


The African nation of Zambia was identified in colonial times as Northern Rhodesia, and it adopted its more recent designation as Zambia in 1964.  The first shortwave program service in what was then Northern Rhodesia was broadcast in 1946 from an already established communication station that was on the air in Lusaka under the callsign ZQP.  Back then station ZQP operated with 500 watts on 7220 kHz and Initial programming was a brief daily service that was taken on relay from the radio station in (Southern) Rhodesia at Salisbury.

The squawking Bird Call that has been heard as the opening tuning signal from Radio Zambia on shortwave seems to be the African Fish Eagle, which is the national bird for three African nations; South Sudan, Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) and Zambia.

Radio Zambia – External Service (vintage – c 1973). Interval Signals Online,

Radio Zambia – External Service (vintage – c 1978). Interval Signals Online,

1965 QSL from Zambia, depicting the fish eagle. Image:
By Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa – African fish eagle, Haliaeetus vocifer, at Chobe National Park, Botswana, CC BY 2.0, Link


The island of Nauru is just a small almost circular island of 8 square miles and it lies in the Pacific area of Micronesia, nearly three thousand miles northeast from Australia.  For more than a hundred years, Nauru has featured prominently in wireless and radio history.  There has never been a shortwave broadcasting service from Nauru, though there have been many occasions when international shortwave has achieved necessary communication with other distant countries.  The  Coastal Radio Station VKT for example was often in shortwave communication with VIS in Sydney Australia.

There is a government operated FM station on Nauru, and there was a time when this station signed on each morning with the sound of a bird call.  That bird was the Nauruan Canary.

Radio Nauru FM105. Interval Signals Online,

The Nauru Media Bureau (Radio Nauru and Nauru Television) broadcasting tower on the highest point of the island – Command Ridge (Janor in Nauruan). Radio Nauru transmits with 1000 Watts and a 4-bay antenna. Photo: World Radio Map

New Caledonia

The French island of New Caledonia lies about 750 miles off the east coast of Australia.  A major shortwave station at St. Marie on New Caledonia was taken into service in 1968.  Even though that shortwave service from New Caledonia RFO was intended mainly for their home islands and for the other French islands in the Pacific, yet they were heard regularly with good signals in both New Zealand and Australia.  That RFO shortwave service was on the air for a little over a quarter of a century and it was finally closed forever in 1994.

The shortwave service from RFO in New Caledonia had adopted a bird call as part of their daily sign on routine.  That bird was the Kagu, an almost flightless forest bird found only in New Caledonia.

Call of the Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus)

RFO – Radio New Caledonia (vintage – 2001). Interval Signals Online,

Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus)
By JJ Harrison – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
FR3 in Noumea sent this letter confirming reception in New Zealand © David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of January 1, 2023

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