VOA Relay Station on board the Battleship Texas

It is quite well known in the radio world that the Voice of America was on the air from the radio ship “Courier” while it was anchored in the harbor at the island of Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean. However, it is not quite so well known that VOA was on the air in earlier times from many other radio ships, in fact, anywhere up to a dozen. On this occasion we trace the story of the very first endeavor on the part of the Voice of America into radio broadcasting from a ship, the navy vessel Texas 2.

This massive warship, the Texas 2, was launched at Newport News in Virginia way back in the year 1912. It was close to 600 feet long, and more than 100 feet wide. The total weight of this ship was 34,000 tons.

The USS Texas achieved two moments of fame in its illustrious career spanning 36 years. In the year 1919 it was the first American battleship to launch experimental aircraft at sea, and in 1942 it acted as the first seaborne relay station for the Voice of America. This ship was decommissioned just six years later, in 1948.

These days, the Texas lies at anchor in the Jacinto State Park, in the state of Texas, where it is now a historic museum piece and a popular tourist attraction. Many postcards from the days of its former glory are still available from postcard dealers nationwide.

For the purpose of broadcasting to the people in coastal areas of Morocco in North Africa, a 5 kw medium wave transmitter was installed in the USS Texas, and this was tuned to the frequency 601 kHz. It is presumed that some form of test broadcasts were radiated in advance to ensure that the transmitter would function correctly at the time of the coming invasion.

Historic documents tell us that the first broadcast from the Texas was made around 4:30 am on November 8, 1942. At the time, the Texas was stationed in the Mediterranean off the coast of Rabat in Morocco, and the channel for this epic broadcast was the same as the mediumwave station ashore in Rabat.

On board the Texas were radio personnel from the Voice of America and the American OWI department. Programming for this first broadcast was in French and English, and it consisted of recorded messages and off-air relays from shortwave stations located in the United States and England.

The recorded speeches were broadcast in the French language by President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower. The president’s message was delivered by an American diplomat pretending to be the president, though General Eisenhower’s message was delivered by the general himself.

The programming on the air from the Texas was presented in both French and English under the title the “Voice of Freedom,” and the broadcast frequency from the mediumwave transmitter was changed a couple of times in an attempt to escape jamming.

In the early afternoon, the battleship Texas was ordered to approach the shore and to fire at targets on the land. The first salvo from the Texas damaged its intended targets on the land, and it also instantly destroyed the mediumwave transmitter due to the noise from the massive explosions and the jarring and shuddering caused by the recoil from the huge guns.

Thus, the first seaborne relay station, operated on behalf of the Voice of America, was on the air for no more than eight hours. It would seem that no QSLs were ever issued for these broadcasts, and the only people who heard this station were those who were in the area at the time.

From: Wavescan 429, March 16, 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).