Voice of America Relay Station in a Submarine        

The Voice of America radio stations in the Philippine Islands, that subsequently became so well known throughout the international radio world, underwent a very small though very interesting beginning towards the end of the Pacific War in the middle of last century.  In order to understand those early origins way back then, let’s go back to the year 1942. This is what happened.

Japanese in control at KZRH in 1942. Photo: Manila Broadcasting Company website

After a series of successful military campaigns in various areas of the Philippines, the American forces officially surrendered to the Japanese in a ceremony that was broadcast live over the mediumwave and shortwave services of the popular three year old Manila radio station KZRH on May 6, 1942.

However two months before that surrender, President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington DC had ordered General Douglas MacArthur to escape from the Philippines and fly to Australia, where he was to develop American counterplans for return invasions in the Pacific. Then, soon after he arrived in Australia, he made a statement in the Australian media, in which he declared to the Filipino people, I will return.

Less than three years later, MacArthur fulfilled his vow to the Filipino people when a massive naval flotilla composed of 750 American and Australian ships invaded the east coast of Leyte Island in the southern Philippines in October 1944. On October 22 (1944), MacArthur waded ashore at Red Beach, north of Palo on Samar island, at the beginning of his fateful return to his beloved adopted country.  It was here that he made his famous “I have returned” speech over a mobile communication radio station that had been installed onto an army weapons carrier vehicle on shore.

This mobile broadcast was picked up on a navy vessel off shore, the light cruiser USS “Nashville”, which was the command ship under General Douglas MacArthur for the return invasion of the Philippines. From the “Nashville”, MacArthur’s famous words were flashed on shortwave to the radio ships “Apache” and FP47 nearby, and thence across the Pacific to New Guinea, Australia, Hawaii and the United States.

FP-47 Signal Corps Communication Ship. Photo: http://www.navsource.org/archives/30/05/0501.htm

Soon afterwards planning was implemented for another American invasion, this time in the Lingayen Gulf on the western shore on the island of Luzon, opposite the city of Manila. This location was just 30 land miles across from the city of Manila.

In preparation for this assault, plans were laid to place a mediumwave station on the air with information that would be a morale booster for the local Filipino people. Mediumwave transmissions from the distant island of Leyte, 300 miles to the south, would not provide satisfactory daytime coverage up near Manila.

The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) leading USS Colorado (BB-45) and the cruisers USS Louisville (CA-28), USS Portland (CA-33), and USS Columbia (CL-56) into Lingayen Gulf, Philippines, in January 1945.
By U.S. Navy photo 80-G-59525; Post-work: Cobatfor (Pennsylvania´s radar antennas added that had been removed by the wartime censor) Public Domain, Link

It would be unwise to station a ship board radio station in the Lingayen Gulf, such as the American-Australian Apache, the American FP47 or the Triton Maris, as any of these ships would have been an easy target for a Japanese attack. As a satisfactory alternative, an American submarine was chosen with a 50 watt mediumwave transmitter aboard.

It would seem that this submarine was made ready in the United States, perhaps at San Diego, in advance of its planned usage in the Pacific, and in particular for its usage off the west coast of Luzon Island. It is known that programming over this submarine radio station was under the auspices of OWI, the Office of War Information and VOA the Voice of America, in California.

The callsign for that temporary mediumwave radio broadcasting station was KZSO, a callsign that would appeal to listeners in the Philippines. The letter K in the callsign KZSO back then indicated an American radio station in the Philippines. The letter Z indicated the island of Luzon, and the letters SO stood for Submarine Operation. It is probable that the operating channel for mediumwave KZSO was 710 kHz.

It is suggested that the KZSO program schedule (in English and Tagalog?) was compiled from three different sources: Prerecorded material that was loaded into the submarine before it left the California coast, live off air programming relayed on shortwave from VOA California, and live local announcements by a radio officer aboard the submarine.

General Douglas MacArthur landing at “Blue Beach,” Dagupan, Lingayen Gulf, 1945
By Carl Mydans. Time Inc.; The LIFE Picture Collection – artnet, Public Domain, Link

Obviously radio station KZSO was on the air only when the submarine was floating on the surface of the ocean. It would appear that the station was inaugurated off the coast of Luzon Island without ceremony in late December 1944. The official government broadcasting service PBS in the Philippines (Philippine Broadcasting System) traces its earliest origins to mediumwave radio station KZSO aboard the American submarine.

On January 9 (1945), American armed forces made an amphibious landing in the southern areas of the Gulf of Lingayen, and it is stated that radio station KZSO supported these landings with its radio programming. Then one month later, on February 3, (1945) station KZSO was transferred from the submarine and taken ashore where it was installed as a landbased station.

We continue the story of this amazing radio station with further interesting information next time.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of February 6, 2022

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