The Original Radio Saigon

In our program three weeks back, we presented the story of the two shortwave stations that identified on air as Radio Malaya Singapore back during Word War 2.  The real Radio Malaya Singapore was located on Singapore island, and the pretend Radio Malaya Singapore was located in Batavia-Jakarta on the island of Java in what is now the islandic nation of Indonesia.

There was another pair of shortwave stations with a somewhat similar story, back during that same historic era, the Asia-Pacific War in the middle of last century.  For a short period of time, special programming from Radio Saigon in Frenchindo China (South Vietnam) pretended to be the same Radio Batavia on the same island of Java in what is now the same islandic nation of Indonesia.  This is the story, and we go way back to the beginning.

In the Summer of the year 1928, Mr. Joseph de la Pommeraya, representing the newly organized Franco-Indochinese Radio Company in Saigon, approached the Director of the French Radio-Electric Society in Haussman Boulevard in Paris with a request to buy a 12 kW shortwave transmitter for installation in Saigon.

Antique map of French Indochina, published between 1908 and 1914. Image: Pinterest

During the following year (1929), the Saigon company purchased a block of land at Chi-Hoa, an outer suburban area four miles from the center of Saigon, upon which they constructed a new shortwave radio broadcasting station.  Two radio engineers from Paris flew out to Saigon to install the new shortwave radio equipment, and the company contracted with seven professional musicians to produce the radio programming.

On July 18 of the following year (1930), the new shortwave radio broadcasting station was officially inaugurated with the participation of the Provincial Governor Mr. Pasquier.  At the time, there were only 108 radio receivers (officially) in the whole of the territory, French Indochina.

This new radio station was licensed with a callsign that appeared to identify an amateur radio station, F3ICD.  The production studios were located at 106 Charner Blvd in Saigon, and the 12 kW transmitter at Chi-Hoa operated on 49.05 m (6116 kHz).  Subsequently, they also used 25.46 m (11785 kHz).

On the occasions when the new Radio Saigon, the Voice of France in the Far East, wished to be heard in France itself, they took out a relay via the commercial point-to-point communication station FZS in Saigon, with 9 kW on 25.02 m (11990 kHz).

Less than two years after their official inauguration, Radio Saigon was closed due to lack of operating funds.  The station was closed on April 30, 1932, which resulted in a burst of protest with letters from listeners in many different countries around the world.  Funding was requested from Paris, but nothing ever came.  Four years later, Radio Saigon made a short series of experimental test transmissions on 9520 kHz with an intent of reopening the station, but even then, no funding became available.

However, in 1938 with world tensions bristling in many areas as they were, the provincial government in Saigon and the home government in Paris entered into discussion about the reopening of their radio station Radio Saigon.  In January of the following year (1939), the radio equipment at Chi-Hoa was removed, renovated, and reinstalled at a new location at Phi-Tho, also in outer suburban Saigon.  Temporary studios were installed at the Radio-Electric Centre in Saigon, and again, radio engineers from Paris flew out to render technical assistance.

Undated early Radio Saigon QSL Card. Image: Pinterest

The first test broadcasts from this new and revived Radio Saigon were noted in Australia on March 18, 1939, on the same channel as before 6116 kHz in the 49 m band.  The revived station was  officially inaugurated two weeks later on April 1, (1939).  However, because the electronic equipment was old and renovated, there were frequent break downs.  In addition, they had very few music recordings.  However, in spite of all of these primitive problems, the listener mail response from around the globe was most remarkable.

With the onset of war on the European mainland at the beginning of September 1939, the provincial government in French Indochina took over the operation of Radio Saigon.  In November (1939), the signal from Radio Saigon with its programming on the twin channels 6116 kHz and 11780 kHz in parallel was described in Australia as very strong.

In December (1939) Radio Saigon conducted a series of test transmissions on both 6116 kHz and 11780 kHz in parallel with programming beamed towards the United States.  The interesting test message was presented by a woman announcer in English as follows:-

This is a special broadcast for the United States.  We do not expect that many listeners in that country will hear this transmission but we would appreciate reception reports to be addressed to Radio Saigon.

In June 1940 with the armistice between Germany and France, Radio Saigon, as the Voice of France in the Far East, assumed a new importance.  Additional new equipment that was already on the way from France was incorporated into the older equipment already in use at the Phi-Tho transmitter station, and a much better signal was then heard further afield from Radio Saigon.

Radio Saigon Pretended to be NIROM Radio in Batavia

Main NIROM transmitter site for YDA 3040kc 10kW.
©Ray Crawford Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

 It was in September 1940 that Japanese armed forces arrived in Saigon and they took over the administration of Radio Saigon, though they permitted the regular staff to continue as usual in service at the station.  Then two years later in March 1942, Radio Saigon was on the air for a special series of broadcasts aimed at the Dutch colonies in what is now Indonesia.

The noted American radio historian Jerome Berg has compiled and written four memorable volumes on the entire history of shortwave broadcasting and listening, all of which are filled with interesting and important radio information.  In the volume entitled, The Early Shortwave Stations, he mentions the Radio Saigon saga.  We quote:

For about a week in early March (1942), at Japan’s direction, Radio Saigon, pretending to be Radio Bandoeng in Java and using the latter’s frequency of 10260 kHz, broadcast propaganda programs in Dutch and Malay (the language of the Dutch East Indies) which were coordinated with Japanese troop movements around Bandoeng.  The Battle of Java ended with the surrender of Dutch troops at Bandoeng on March 8 (1942).

During that short era of time in early March 1942, Radio Saigon in South Vietnam was noted on several additional shortwave channels, all of which seemed to be mimicking the usage of NIROM (Netherlands Indies Radio Omroep Maatschappij) Radio Bandoeng on the island of Java.  These channels were 10220 kHz,  10230 kHz, 10260 kHz, and 10420 kHz.

Three months later, in June 1942, Radio Saigon in Japanese occupied South Vietnam was noted in the United States with an off-air program relay from Radio Tokyo in Japan.  Four months later again (October 1942), Radio Saigon began the broadcast of programs beamed specifically to Australia, often with brief messages from Australian prisoners of war.  During these eras, Radio Saigon was noted frequently on its two standard frequencies in parallel, 6185 kHz and 11780 kHz, though it was never allocated a specifically Japanese callsign as was the case in several other countries in Asia. 

Three years later, on Friday evening March 9, 1945, Japanese army personnel arrived at the station at 9:30 pm, and they arrested the four staff members still on duty, two men and two women.  Next day the four prisoners were permitted to return to their individual homes, though Radio Saigon was staffed then onwards by Japanese personnel only.  The last day on which messages from Australian POWs was included in their programming beamed to Australia was two month later, on May 31 (1945).

In early September (1945), a few days after the end of the Pacific War, Japanese personnel handed Radio Saigon over to the Viet Minh, a political party in favor of independence for Vietnam, and the Japanese then quietly disappeared.  However, the Viet Minh also absconded just as quickly.  British personnel began to arrive in Saigon a few days later, during the first week in September, and they found little more than chaos in many areas.

Radio Saigon was reactivated by several of its earlier staff on Wednesday September 26 (1945), and the revived station limped along with whatever equipment it could find useful.  However at 10:20 am on Monday April 8 of the next year (1946), a massive series of explosions at a huge ammunition dump destroyed everything in reach, including the nearby studios of Radio Saigon.

The station resumed broadcasting at 6:00 pm that same evening from a temporary studio in a private suburban home, with the use of borrowed equipment from the Post Office and the army.  The former studio building was rebuilt, though the four mile distant transmitter building was not affected by those events.

At that stage, Radio Saigon was on the air wth three broadcast transmitters which were located near an Annamese village at outer suburban Phu-Tho.  Mediumwave 1050 kHz operated at 1½ kW, and shortwave operated with two transmitters at 12 kW each.

However, change was on the away.  Half a dozen years later, two French shortwave transmitters at 25 kW each, and one at 5 kW, were installed.  Originally Radio Saigon was identified as the Voice of France in the Far East, though in the mid 1950s, this powerful French radio broadcasting station was taken over by the independent government of South Vietnam, and Radio France Asie became Radiodiffusion du Vietnam, Radio Vietnam.  The internationally recognized callsign at that stage was 3WT.

The quarter century old Colonial French radio station Radio France Asie, Radio Saigon, is now well and truly gone, and these days it is remembered now only by a few of the oldest surviving radio personnel, those who were active in the middle of last century.

Communication Station Saigon Radio

The original communication radio station in South Vietnam, Saigon Radio was installed in 1924.  This station was heard in Australia under the callsign FZS seven years later, in August 1931.  This Saigon Radio was noted on 11990 kHz with a power of 9 kW, and it was in use for communication with other countries in Asia, and with Bordeaux in the European mother country France.  In 1935, Saigon Radio was listed with three shortwave transmitters, two at 15 kW (FZR & FZS), and one at 6 kW (FZG).

On special occasions, and when radio broadcasting station Radio Saigon wished to be heard specifically in France, then a program relay from Radio Saigon was carried by communication station Saigon Radio.  Occasional program relays of this nature were heard in both Australia and the United States, and two of the known frequencies for this purpose were 11990 kHz and 18388 kHz.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX programs of June 27 & July 11, 2021

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  1. We’ve added Adrians’s second installment from Wavescan to this feature.