On this occasion here in Wavescan, we present the story of six local radio broadcasting stations that have been located on the island of Antigua, a British territory on the northeastern edge of the Caribbean. The stories associated with this cluster of local radio stations span more than half a century of interesting radio history.
1. American Forces Radio Service AFRS Amplifier Station
We go back to the era of World War 2, and at that stage the United States was operating major bases on the northern perimeter of island of Antigua as a form of protection for the Panama Canal. These bases were located at Crabbs and Coolidge on both sides of Parham Harbour, and they were collectively a joint operation that involved all four branches of the American armed forces.
A small and somewhat informal radio station was installed at the American Coolidge Air Force Base and it was operated in the style of what we would these days call a cable radio station. Local and relayed AFRS programming was broadcast through strategically located loud speakers throughout the American encampments.
2. Antigua Broadcasting Service ABS
The well known aviation pioneer in the Caribbean, Captain Sir Frank DeLisle introduced the first air flight services to several of the eastern Caribbean islands including Montserrat and Antigua. In November 1952, Sir Frank installed the first radio broadcasting station in Montserrat in the basement of his home, the ornate and historic Olveston House in suburban Salem. The 40 watt crystal controlled shortwave transmitter was tuned to the 90 metre tropical band frequency 3255 kHz, and the simple antenna system was a center fed doublet, erected at the home.
The Montserrat government took over the DeLisle volunteer radio broadcasting service five years later, in 1957, and they installed a new mediumwave transmitter in the nearby Groves Agriculture compound with 250 watts on 1550 kHz under the callsign ZJB. On one of his many flights across the separating waterway, Sir Frank then transferred his small low powered shortwave station from Montserrat and he installed it at St. John’s on the island of Antigua where it was inaugurated on the same tropical band channel 3255 kHz.
The Antigua Broadcasting Service was officially organized in February 1956, and the shortwave programming service was inaugurated during the following year, 1957. Even at that preliminary stage, the station announced that soon a 500 watt transmitter would be installed.
After three years of shortwave programming (1960), a new 500 watt mediumwave transmitter was installed and it radiated initially on the almost split channel frequency 644 kHz. Five years later, the mediumwave channel was adjusted slightly to the more conventual 10 kHz spacing at 620 kHz. Subsequently the power level was increased to 5 kW, and later again, to 10 kW. Half a dozen years ago, ABS abandoned the use of mediumwave in favor of the more economical FM coverage.
3. Commercial Station ZDK
After the middle of last century, a large number of radio listeners on Antigua were writing letters of request to radio stations elsewhere, such as WSTA on St Thomas, the BBC shortwave service in London, and the Voice of America in Washington DC. In fact, the commercial station WSTA on St Thomas accommodated their listeners on Antigua with a special daily program under the title, Antigua Antics.
Commercial leaders on Antigua saw this obvious interest on the part of radio listeners as an opportunity to launch a commercial radio broadcasting station. Ultimately they were able to launch their own commercial station as ZDK with 10 kW on 1100 kHz and 10 watts FM on 99.0 MHz, on November 30, 1970. At one stage they considered installing a 50 kW mediumwave transmitter, though instead they also abandoned mediumwave in favor of FM (97.1 MHz) half a dozen years ago.
4. Caribbean Radio Lighthouse
The mediumwave station Caribbean Radio Lighthouse with its Baptist connections was inaugurated with 10 kW on the split channel frequency 1165 kHz with studios and transmitter at Jolly Hill, Antigua on September 7, 1975. Four years ago (2017), their studios were rebuilt at suburban Valley Church, though the transmitter, a 10 kW Nautel, remained at Jolly Hill.
Two frequency modulated STLs (studio to transmitter links) feed the twin programming from the studios to the mediumwave transmitter at Jolly Hill and to the FM transmitter (92.3 MHz) on a nearby hill top. This station, Caribbean Radio Lighthouse with its 10 kW on 1165 kHz, is the only mediumwave station still operating on the island of Antigua.
5. Voice of America Relay Station
An agreement between the United States and the somewhat independent island nation of Antigua for the installation of a Voice of America relay station was signed in 1980. Preliminary work on the 17 acre site adjacent to the American Air Force Base at Coolidge on the northern edge of the island began in January of the following year, 1981. In VOA parlance, the location was identified as Judge Bay.
The original interim equipment for VOA Antigua was contained in a Dept of Defense transportable station with a 50 kW transmitter on 1580 kHz and a single omni-directional tower. Two power generators at 200 kW each provided back up power as needed. Two shortwave transmitters at 50 kW each at VOA Greenville in North Carolina provided a program feed:
Greenville Site A, transmitter GA7 on 15650 kHz, LSB
Greenville Site B, transmitter GB7 on 9560 kHz, DSB
If needed, back up feeder transmitters were available at other VOA sites in the United States. The station was on the air in English four hours each night with programming beamed to the Caribbean and the South American mainland. On one Sunday each month, the station was on the air for just one hour, from 1700 to 1800 UTC. This would seem to be an opportunity for transmitter maintenance and adjustment.
This VOA slave relay station was inaugurated on April 12, 1981 and it was moved into a permanent facility two years later (1983), with a two tower directional antenna system configured for coverage to the south. The last entry in the WRTVHB for VOA Antigua was for the year 1993, seeming to indicate that the station was closed after a dozen years of on air service during that same year (1993). The Antigua station, along with a similar station in Costa Rica, was closed as an economy measure.
6. BBC World Service on FM
In 1976, a large new shortwave station was installed on the island of Antigua as a joint operation by the BBC London and Deutsche Welle in Germany and it was operated under the auspices of the Caribbean Relay Company Ltd. Subsequently, the Caribbean Relay Co also installed an FM station which carried a live relay from the BBC World Service and also the regular regional program, Caribbean Report. Initially this programming was listed on 98.1 MHz FM, though these days it is noted on 89.1 MHz.
This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of November 14, 2021