The Call of the Friendly Isles

Author: Adrian Peterson
Radio Tonga A3Z, “The Call of the Friendly Isles”

 

It was just before sunrise on a pleasant cool morning back in the year 1974. I was standing out in the open near the “long house”, a local tourist attraction, at the airport at Pago Pago in American Samoa. I tuned my portable radio across the almost empty mediumwave band and just happened to hear the sign-on routine from Radio Tonga.

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A subsequent reception report produced an exotic and highly prized QSL card from station A3Z, complete with a banana shaped postage stamp, picturing of course, a banana. They also sent a descriptive sheet giving the history of Radio Tonga and we quote from their document.

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The Kingdom of Tonga is composed of over 150 islands, the largest of which is Tongatapu with approximately 100 square miles. The islands are scattered over 400 miles of sea in the tropical belt south of the equator.

There are around 100,000 people in the kingdom with the majority living on the main island. Over 20,000 people live in Nuku’alofa, the capital city of Tonga. There are three main groups of islands in Tonga and these are located in the north, the center and the south. Tonga is an independent kingdom with a constitutional monarchy established in 1862 by King Tupou 1. 

Radio Tonga came into existence on July 4, 1961 when a new mediumwave station was inaugurated with 10 kW on 1020 kHz. At this stage, the new broadcasting service was a department of the Tongan government.

Fourteen years later, Radio Tonga became an independent statutary organization. The studios and transmitters for Radio Tonga are located in the capital city.

To the surprise and delight of the international radio world, a new shortwave service was launched in Tonga, beginning on February 28, 1989. A new 1 kW transmitter was now on the air with a relay from the mediumwave service using a frequency in the 60 metre band, 5030 kHz. This new broadcast service on tropical shortwave was intended for coverage of the scattered populations on the outer islands.

However, four months later, a fault developed in the transmitter and from that time onwards, Radio Tonga A3Z was heard on shortwave only spasmodically. A new final tube was obtained from France, the transmitter was moved to a new location, but it was never again on the air for any lengthy period of time.

The final end of the shortwave service from Tonga came when a storm demolished the antenna on February 16, 1993. At this stage, Radio New Zealand International provided a brief relay service from Radio Tonga and beamed the programming back to the “Friendly Isles” of Tonga.

QSL cards from station A3Z on shortwave are now a historic rarity. Thus it was that Radio Tonga made its first broadcast on shortwave just 14 years ago next Friday.

Radio Broadcasting in Tonga

Time Lines
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Year Date Event
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1961 Jul 4 Inauguration of new mediumwave station ZCO 10 kW 1020 kHz
1972 Change of callsign from ZCO to A3Z
1989 Feb 28 Launching of new shortwave service 1 kW 5030 kHz
1989 Jun Transmitter fault, off air; occasional subsequent broadcasts
1993 Feb 16 Storm brought antenna down
1993 Feb 16 RNZI heard with relay from Radio Tonga

Radio Broadcasting in Tonga

References

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Station Information & Reference
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ZCO MW Inaugurated July 4, 1961, 1020 kHz 10 kW; RMI160
Callsign change 1972, ZCO = A3Z; RH 79.17 8-72 119

A3Z SW Began Feb 28 1 kW 5030 locally designed transmitter; ADXN 3-89 8
New station; ODXA 4-89 56
Unexpectedly appeared 5030 about March 4, relay MW; ODXA 4-89 58
Feeder 200 w on SW USB same channel as Impacto; DXO 4-89 59
Antenna simple dipole horizontal relay MW 1017; ADXN 3-89 8
Schedule Mon-Sat only 5030 1750 – 12000; ADXN 4-89 8
New shortwave 5030; ODXA 5-89 8
Off air early June, amplifier stage, parts from France; ODXA 8-89 55
Moved from 5025 to 5030; NZDXT ATC Report
Temporarily on 5025, awaiting new transmitter parts; UDXA 10-89 58
Heard back on air in Australia Aug 26; ODXA 10-89 58
Tonga 5030 difficult to hear in North America; ODXA 2-90 57
Heard by David Clark Ontario Jan 22 1990 on 5025; ODXA 3-90 71
Heard by AMP in Sydney Australia 5030 kHz 17-9-90; AMP QSL card
Not yet back on air; ODXA 7-92 27
Transferred to new building, fault discovered; not on air; ODXA 9-92 59
Heard one morning in Hawaii with test on 5030; NASWA 9-92 38
Returned on 5030 Feb 13 new tube received France; NASWA 5-93 24
Storm brought antenna down Feb 16; NASWA 5-93 24
RNZI heard with relay from Radio Tonga; NASWA 5-93 24
Station Profile; Radiomaailma 8-93 35

UCB SW Tonga gov approval given for Radio Rhema SW; ODXA 3-88 44
MW tower under erection, SW & FM later; ATC Report 1-90 14
UCB plans for shortwave from Tonga; ODXA 2-90 57
UCB new FM plans for SW; ODXA 12-91 24

QSLs ZCO 1020 kHz 10 kW 19-8-61; AWR Collection
ZCO 1020 kHz 10 kW 26-8-61; AWR Collection
A3Z 1020 kHz 10 kW 8-4-74 heard Pago Pago; AMP QSL card
A3Z 5030 kHz 1 kW 17-9-90 heard Sydney Australia; AMP QSL card
A3Z 5030 kHz 1 kW 17-9-90 prepared card heard Sydney Aust; AMP card
A3Z 5030 kHz 1 kW 18-9-90 prepared card heard Sydney Aust; AMP card

One response to “The Call of the Friendly Isles

  1. Ted MacDaibhidh

    Very interesting read!

    I logged A3Z on shortwave back in either 1989 or 1990 and have the QSL card – one of the SWLer highlights of my youth. Popular Communications featured the card and my story in one of their issues.

    Cheers,

    Ted

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