Voice of America: Shipboard Relay Stations – 9: The Vagabond Series

Back in the year 1951, at the time when plans were laid for the preparation of the ship “Messenger” as the radio broadcasting ship “Courier“, it was postulated that an additional six similar ships would be provided for use in various sea going locations around the world. These ships, it was stated, could be taken to any desired location and placed on the air in much less time than would be required to construct a land based station.

The first ship in this series of seven, the “Courier,” had proven its capability, when, for example, it was taken to the Caribbean where it made needed broadcasts off the coast of Guatemala. As we stated in a recent edition of Wavescan, the good ship “Courier” was initially readied for use off the coast of Korea; but when the time came, it was instead diverted to an anchorage off the coast of the island of Rhodes, on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean.

During the early part of the year 1953, a series of Congressional Hearings was called in Washington, DC to discuss the usefulness of the “Courier” broadcasts, and the advisability of preparing an additional six similar ships for use elsewhere. One of the documents presented to the Congressional Hearings was from a Mr. S. Bridges, who, it is presumed, was serving in some senior capacity with the Voice of America.

In his letter dated February 23, 1953, Bridges stated that the only VOA ship broadcasting station on the air at that time was Vagabond A, the “Courier” at Rhodes. He also stated that work on a 2nd ship, identified as Vagabond B, was nearing completion, and that electronic equipment similar to the “Courier” was already under installation.

In addition, Bridges also stated that a request had already been placed before Congress for an allocation of funding during the fiscal year 1954 amounting to $3,714,000 for the preparation of the third radio broadcasting ship, Vagabond C.

However, due to changing world circumstances, the cost of operation of these radio broadcasting ships, and criticisms of the entire Vagabond project, work on the two additional ships Vagabond B and Vagabond C, was halted,. In this way, the preparation of all six of the additional Vagabond ships was cancelled. In fact, when the usefulness of the “Courier” came to an end in 1964, it too was withdrawn from service, and the VOA was no longer dependent upon the availability of a radio ship to broadcast at some emergency location.

Interestingly, two years after the cancellation of the additional six ships in the Vagabond series, unscheduled VOA programming was heard in the 17, 18 and 21 MHz bands, and it was conjectured at the time that this was coming from a new radio ship, Vagabond B. The on air callsign was given as KK3XEZ. However, this VOA programming, it was subsequently discovered, was instead a series of test transmissions from a new 500 kW shortwave transmitter at Continental Electronics in Dallas Texas.

After a few weeks, we will come back to the radio ship story again, and we will give mention of several other radio ships that have ventured on the air out in the Pacific arena.

From: Wavescan N169 – May 20, 2012

Read more

“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).