The Story of Another Radio Ship – The VOA Phoenix

According to Greek mythology, the “phoenix” was a large and beautiful bird which could die in a fire and then arise as a new and young creature. Very little else is known about this mysterious bird.

Almost as mysterious is the story of the radio ship “Phoenix” which was fitted out with a bevy of electronic equipment to serve as a mobile broadcasting station. There are just two main sources for the brief story about the “Phoenix”; one is a university dissertation on the history of the Voice of America, and the other is a brief reference in a book on the history of radio broadcasting from ships. All other references to VOA “Phoenix” seem to stem from these two earlier sources.

It is known that the “Phoenix” was not a war vessel, but rather a Greek merchant ship that was converted in the United States for use as a radio broadcasting station. Gerry Bishop, in his memorable compilation of radio ships with the title “Offshore Radio,” refers to this Greek merchant vessel as the “Doddridge,” and then he briefly refers to the later ship, the “Courier”. It is suggested that, in reality, the “Doddridge” became VOA “Phoenix,” not VOA “Courier”.

We could ask the question, What was the radio equipment on the “Phoenix”? The only information we can find is that it contained just one transmitter, rated at 85 kw. If this information is correct, then it was a mighty big transmitter for a small ship. It would seem that the only broadcast transmitter on the “Phoenix” was a mediumwave unit rather than shortwave.

The original purpose for the radio ship “Phoenix” was to act quickly as a temporary radio broadcasting station in the Mediterranean until a permanent station could be built at a satisfactory location. However, by the time the “Phoenix” was ready to fulfil its intended role in the Mediterranean, the European conflict was almost over, and so the ship was then diverted for use in the Pacific.

The official date for the end of the European conflict is given as May 8, 1945, so it would appear then that the “Phoenix” left the United States for its journey across the Pacific around March or April, 1945.

Actually, it is stated that the United States Navy delayed giving approval for the ship to move into the Pacific, and by the time it did arrive in Far Eastern waters the war in the Pacific was over. However, it is understood that the “Phoenix” did go on the air with test broadcasts off the coast of California, and also in Far Eastern waters. The fact that there are no known DX reports of these test broadcasts would seem to confirm that these were made on mediumwave rather than on shortwave.

What happened to the “Phoenix” after the war, and what happened to all of its electronic equipment? No one seems to know. What is known is that it was a slow ship and that it did go on the air with test broadcasts in the Pacific around mid-1945, though it is officially stated that the ship was never used for regular radio broadcasting. In addition, there are no known loggings of this ship broadcasting station in any radio magazines at the time.

It would appear, then, that the radio broadcasting ship “Phoenix” was a temporary and very short lived project that never fully fulfilled its intended purposes.

From: Wavescan 450, August 17, 2003

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“Wavescan” is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave).