The Powerful United States Naval Radio Station at Tarlac in the Philippines

The Seal of the U.S. Naval Communication Station Philippines with Tarlac Radio Station unit name. By U.S. Naval Communication Station Philippines – U.S. Navy, Public Domain, Link

Four Stations in One

Around the world in recent years, several different countries have installed large and powerful shortwave radio broadcasting stations. We can remember for example the Voice of America with its three associated locations at Greenville in North Carolina (A B & C), which embodied a combined consecutive total of 32 shortwave broadcasting transmitters, 10 of which were rated at 500 kW each.

Likewise in France, Radio France International operated another gigantic shortwave station at Issoudun with a combined consecutive total of 31 transmitters, 20 of which were also rated at 500 kW each. The largest cluster of shortwave transmitters in the United Kingdom were the three stations at Skelton that were identified also as A B & C, with a consecutive total of 29 transmitters, most of which were rated at 250 kW and 300 kW.

And likewise, similar huge shortwave broadcasting stations have been erected in Germany, Russia, the Ukraine, Kuwait and elsewhere. However, in addition to those huge broadcasting stations on shortwave, several countries have also maintained huge shortwave stations specifically for communication purposes. We choose as an example, a large shortwave communication station that was established in the Philippine Islands for use by the American navy. That is our story for today.

Soon after the end of World War 2, the American navy established a shortwave communication station at Bagobantay, on the northern edge of Quezon City in the Philippines. That new radio facility was housed in mainly temporary Quonset Hut buildings, and it was in general usage for American naval communications for some 20 years.

Subsequently a new and much larger naval communication station was established on Camp O’Donnell some 50 miles further north from Quezon City. Camp O’Donnell was an American army encampment that was developed in 1941, though it was taken over by the Japanese army during the following year, 1942.

When American forces on the Bataan Peninsula near Manila surrendered to the Japanese conquest in March 1942, they were embarked under the Japanese on a 66 mile long forced march to Camp O’Donnell. Many died en route during what is now known as the Bataan Death March, and some 9,000 Americans and 50,000 Filipinos were then held as prisoners of war at their destination in Camp O’Donnell. The death rate in the internment camp was also very high.

Twenty years later, the Americans chose nearly 2,000 acres at Camp O’Donnell for the installation of a large new and permanent naval radio station, which was taken into regular shortwave communication in 1962. At that stage, the earlier Bagobantay station was closed.

The Tarlac Radio Transmitter station on Camp O’Donnell contained three separate transmitter facilities, each with its own separate antenna systems. A total of nearly one hundred American personnel operated the station and its equipment, together with more than two hundred local Filipino personnel as well.

Naval Radio Station Bagobantay. Photos: hamgallery.com

Upon this large radio site were two transmitter buildings and also a cluster of smaller supportive buildings. Some employees lived on site, while others were resident in neighboring areas.

The U.S. Naval Radio Station, Tarlac in 1970. By U.S. Navy – A former Officer in Charge, Naval Radio Station Tarlac., Public Domain, Link

The main transmitter building was identified as “Main Deck” and it contained an unspecified number of shortwave transmitters, a quantity that was listed simply as “a large number”. These transmitters were described as “high powered” though most were rated generally at 40 kW or 10 kW each, though apparently there were some at a considerably higher power level. There were also several smaller units as well.

Map of Navy Transmitter Facility Capas. Image: https://www.navy-transmitter-facility-capas.com

The secondary transmitter building, known as “Bull Horn”, was a little smaller than “Main Deck” with a few less transmitters, though at the same power range. The antenna systems were directional and they varied in style according to intended coverage areas.

The third transmitter facility at the Tarlac communication station was a single powerful 500 kW longwave transmitter, known locally as “Big Sam”, and it was housed in a mobile trailer van that was set up adjacent to the smaller transmitter building “Bull Horn”. This longwave transmitter was capable of communicating to American submarines that were submerged beneath the ocean waters of the Pacific.

Most of the shortwave transmissions that were received at the Tarlac Radio Station were encoded and encrypted data signals, which were relayed onward to nearby naval vessels and landbased stations as needed. However, there were also many occasions when the relay of shortwave transmissions was made in unencoded English speech.

The receiver station for the shortwave complex was located at San Miguel, thirty miles south east of the Tarlac transmitter station. Communication between the two major locations, receivers and transmitters (San Miguel and Tarlac) was attained with a set of three-hop microwave relay transmitters. The callsign for this multi-combined international radio communication station was apparently NPP, though in an earlier era, the callsign NPP identified the American communication station that was located at Peking (Beijjng) in China.

When satellite communication became more readily available, the multifaceted radio communication station at San Miguel-Tarlac was no longer needed, and it was closed in 1989. The property was taken over for housing and local tourism.

Interestingly, the large VOA Voice of America shortwave relay station at Tinang (1968) had already been in operation for more than twenty years at the time when Tarlac was closed, and it was located just 10 miles due east of the American naval shortwave station at Tarlac.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of June 19, 2022

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