In 1946, British announcer Peter Knowlden introduced radio programs to British Commonwealth Occupation Forces at Miho Airfield in Japan with the words ‘This is Station WLKT Miho operating on 14-40 kilocycles and 2-oh-8 metres’ and played Eric Coates’ “London Again” suite as his nightly signature tune.
His audience included Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Indian Air Force personnel, and he broadcast from a mobile radio station that was originally built in Melbourne, Australia for the AAAS – Australian Army Amenities Service – and had been allocated the call sign 9AM.
Peter says “I have no idea how that truck got to Miho, the roads were awful, but the railway line was excellent, so maybe it came that way.”
How did a British serviceman become the DJ on an Australian controlled radio station with an American call sign operating in Japan?
“I got involved while visiting my friend who was the DJ and presenter primo. He dropped a record as he was ad-libbing the title and added some emotional comments as it went to pieces.
“Our CO was a pious fellow taking tea with the Padre and listening at the time.
“He phoned the truck, dismissed my friend on the spot and ordered him to find a replacement immediately [battlefield stuff!] so guess who was closest?
“I remember having to read a test off air, a whole page out of some anthology of music that had no punctuation whatsoever, so you had to read several words ahead to figure out the inflections and pauses.”
Peter worked at WLKT during his off-duty hours with no pay, but lots of travel to places like Tokyo, Hiroshima and Myajima.
“The signal could be heard in Yonago and Matsue and it was odd to hear Beethoven from a fishing village called Oshinozu where I used to discreetly attend sumo wrestling matches” says Peter.
“We played large 16rpm discs sent to us by the BBC and with plays and comedy from London” he adds.
The mobile broadcasting trucks were built in Melbourne during 1945 and shipped to ports across the western Pacific to provide entertainment for Australian military personnel.
With the surrender of Japan, and the formation of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force [BCOF], a number of these units were then taken to the Kure area near Hiroshima, which is where Australian forces were concentrated.
The main occupation forces radio station at Kure was originally AFRS station WVTV which then moved out of the area to be replaced with the mobile AAAS station known as 9AT.
Inheriting the entire WVTV record library, this mobile station first took over the WVTV call sign and later became known as WLKS.
Because its 200 watts transmitter was insufficient to provide good coverage for all Australian units, four additional mobile AAAS stations with lower power were deployed to provide localized services.
These were 9AM, 9AQ, 9AR and 9AV. On arrival in Japan, these were allocated the call signs WVTW, WVTX, WVTZ and WVTY, some of which had been previously used elsewhere in the Pacific.
In 1946, the call signs were changed again to become WLKT, WLKU, WLKW and WLKV and this is how the Australian AAAS mobile truck 9AM became WLKT and allocated to Miho Airfield in southern Japan.
Peter says “The radio truck was stifling hot in summer and an ice-box in winter. Large flying insects would interrupt when I was reading the news… all very primitive.”
“There were only three people that I knew, including the Officer-in-Charge running the show. Signals did the maintenance. We did our thing in the evening and on weekends. During the day I think we just acted as a repeater from Kure or somewhere.”
When Peter arrived in Japan aboard the SS Ranchi, he arrived at Kure, formerly a major naval base for Yamato class battleships – “most Japanese maps didn’t name it in Romanji as it was supposed to be secret.” – and there were dozens of wrecked one-man submarines scattered about.
He adds “Miho had been a small Japanese military airport, on a spit of land alongside Miho Bay. Two large hangers were functional and some small bunkered buildings were on the south side. We took over their barracks just as is.”
Peter concludes “I did not continue radio in civilian life, but did get an offer from Yonago University to stay on and teach English there. I went back to the UK. It’s all a long time ago now”
Miho-Yanago Airport is now a civilian airport jointly operated with the Japan Air Self-Defence Force which retains an operational base there.
After BCOF forces were repatriated, a radar installation of the US Air Force operated at the airfield, providing a key link in the early warning defence system for Japan.
The Far East Network [part of Armed Forces Radio] opened an AM studio and transmitter here in August 1952, known as FEN Miho. This operated independently for some years before becoming a relay of FEN Iwakuni and finally closing down in February 1958 as part of a retraction of US forces in Japan.
For just over a decade [1946-1958], the airwaves of Miho Air Base played host to former Australian mobile radio station 9AM [known locally as WLKT] and later, FEN Miho.
WLKT broadcast with a power of 10 watts at 1440 AM.
Peter Knowlden now resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
For a selection of images of Royal Indian Air Force personnel and equipment based at Miho, Japan, we recommend the website www.bharat-rakshak.com, an independent site preserving the history of the [now] Indian Air Force.