Friday, June 27, 2014

Voice of America Offshore radio remembered



From 1952 -1964, amidst the Cold War, a 338-foot Coast Guard Cutter was transformed into the mobile broadcasting base of the Voice of America. Its mission for more than a decade: send information beyond the Iron Curtain to counter Soviet propaganda in more than a dozen native languages. Daniela Schrier reports from an exhibit in New London, Connecticut honoring the veterans and broadcasters who served aboard the ship in the waters off of Rhodes, Greece.

Interesting that in later years, when others tried to start offshore broadcasts off the coast of New York State, the fact that the US government had broadcast from the high seas was quietly ignored. High power broadcasting was said to be a danger to vital ship to shore communications. But we all knew that just wasn't true.








This Media Network programme which I produced examined the boarding of Radio New York International , which broadcast from a radio ship anchored in international waters just off Jones Beach, Long Island New York in 1987 and 1988. I seem to recall that the authorities said one of the reasons for the boarding was that it is illegal to broadcast from a ship. Except that the Voice of America did exactly that off the coast of Greece in the 1950's. The "
Courier 410" was fitted out with 150 kW diesel generators by RCA and transmitters designed to put a shortwave signal out via a tethered balloon. The good old Interwebs has plenty of photos here and here. - there was nothing like that when we made the programme on August 30th 1987!

From 7th September 1952 till May 1964 the USCGC Courier broadcast Voice of America programs in 16 languages to Communist bloc countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, transmitting these programs 10 hours each day. During these tense years, USCGC Courier, operating as a sea station, was constantly alert to crisis, with the ability to move to a "hot spot” and begin broadcasting in a matter of hours. They had two Collins 207B 35 kW short-wave transmitters on board coupled to the folded Discone antennas, up front at starboard a higher frequency MW antenna and at port a lower frequency MW antenna. They also had an RCA MW transmitter with 150 kW. output. Originally it was planned to have six additional ships but due to the high cost, only the Courier was put into service. According to the German offshore radio site, "the ship was not allowed to broadcast on the high seas and was only permitted to operate within the territorial waters of a country when granted permission. The local population viewed the ship and its crew with mixed emotions. Rhodes was under Italian domain from 1812 to the end of WW2 and now they were back under the Greek Flag and Queen Fredrica. After a period of adjustment, the Americans were generally accepted into the Greek community.
For the first year or so the main antenna was carried aloft by a barrage balloon. The ballon was 69 x 35 feet in size and held 150.000 cubic feet of helium. It was held by means of a winch-operated line to float 900 feet in the air to support the medium-wave antennas. The ballooon was lost a couple of times, and it ended up in Turkey. Then a VOA engineer, Ivan Boor, designed an inverted delta antenna that fitted between the masts. There was a slight loss in signal output but being free of the balloon problems proved to be well worth the loss. A receiving site was constructed on the highest point of Monti Smith, a hill south of the city of Rhodes. A VHF link was set up to send the program material sent from Washington DC on tape and via SSB link down to the ship. Many innovative antennas were designed and implemented to thwart Russian jamming and natural phenomena such as selective fading. There was a very large impedance matching device under the flight deck.
Oh, and the rest of the programme reports on the launch of Music Television into Europe. Enjoy.
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