Monday, May 04, 2020

The Fix-Tuned Radios of 4VEH

4VEH  transmitted its first radio program in Haiti on June 2, 1950. the station was founded by a missionary named Green Tolbert Bustin. The station was called "La Voix Evangélique d’Haïti."In English that's "The Evangelistic Voice of Haiti." Bustin was an American, born in 1903 in Hillsboro, MS. He was quote a self-promoter and wrote two autobiographies from which we can reap some context for how this station came to be. Rachael Picazo wrote a station history in 2000 titled The Rocks' Cry Out.

I think it's important to point out that these evangelicals were more than a tad patronizing about the local Haitian people. Even Picazo's book in the year 2000 referred to Haitian "witch doctors" and "Satan" controlling the lives of "savage" people. They refer to people as "cannibals", and "primitives" in ways you seldom see outside of a Trump rally today. Bustin's books are even less tactful. The explicit racism is astounding by modern standards. But between the three texts there is a lot of radio history. In his book My First Fifty Years Bustin wrote:
"To  the  best  of  my  remembrance  my  first  public  mention  of  the  Broadcasting  Station  was  in Chicago only a few weeks before leaving for Australia in June of 1948... A few days later while in conference with our Advisory Board, Brother J. W. Menefee, one of our members, assured me that he highly favored the plans for the Broadcasting Station and had $500 to give toward the project."
 After returning from Australia, he met again Menefee to make plans for the radio station.  only a few days after the meeting Menefee died. Then just a few weeks later Bustin's wife died as well. but he pressed on. Bustin had no radio knowledge of his own. Due to that technical deficit, neither of his autobiographies contain any technical information about the station. He credits an engineer named Paul Shirk from California, with the transmitter design plans. Bustin had a "vision" and selected a location in Haiti at the base of a mountain. Even Shirk pointed out the engineering errors in god's plan. The first 4VEH broadcast was with a 700 watt transmitter on 31 meters. It was only receivable to the south as there was a mountain blocking half of their coverage area. But the signal was strong to the South.  HJCM in Quito, Ecuador was able to return their QSL.

Regardless, the station continued to broadcast. They carried the sort of programs you'd expect, testimonials, devotionals, sermons, hymns and requests for domination. An organist, Mrs. DeMille, visited the 4VEH studios and spent days recording hymns on reel-to-reel tapes. It sounds like quote an effort to expand the station library, but her first name was not recorded.

In the Fall of 1951 the station was struck by lightning and knocked off the air. Shirk took advantage of the outage and designed a 3,000 watt transmitter to replace it. But while in Haiti Shirk got malaria and the dysentery was crippling. Job unfinished, he had to return to the states to recover. Another engineer Mardoqueo "Mardy" Picazo finished the job. He had been an engineer at WVLK in Lexington, KY; WMTC-AM in Jackson, KY, and WLW-TV.
In the above fund-raising pamphlet you'll notice the donations are correlated to amounts of diesel fuel. Bustin's autobiographies don't mention it. But Ms. Picazo's book includes a multiple references to their generators. A passing reference identifies the early generator to be a Witte pair. [LINK] Later she refers to a Cummins engine. In 1961 the Cummins company actually donated  a 4.5 ton, 75 kw diesel generator to 4VEH. It's hard to over-rate the significance of that donation. In Haiti even today less than 40% of the population has access to electricity officially. Those italics are intended. In urban areas 72% of the population has electricity but in rural areas only about 15% of homes have electrical service. Haiti 155 [LINK] wrote "When available, electricity is extremely unreliable. A combination of worn wiring, overloading, and illegal “tapping” has resulted in irregular service."  The 4VEH site was in a rural area so it was imperative that they generate power locally. This became central in the mid 1990s after a coup and U.N. occupation. Diesel was rationed and they have to cut back their programming hours and ask for donations of diesel fuel.

They moved to new studios in 1953. They station now broadcast on both 31 meters and 49 meters. Picazo described the studios and Celotex sound proofing writing a vivid paragraph on the spare station library. Less than 10 years later they would build a new library to hold 16,000 tapes
"A record case in the control room held the entire station music library: about a hundred 78 rpm discs which were used for daily song request programs and a literal "handful" (since I could put my hand around the pile) of 33 rpm records, and some classical and a few sacred pieces."
In 1959 they acquired some land near the ocean where 4VEH would have better coverage than in god's original plan. It was three miles across the bay from Cap-Haitien, near the small town of Petite Anse. The new transmitters were flipped on in October of 1960 with 15,000 watts of power. They also added a 2,500 watt signal at 1035 kc in the AM band.  Interestingly even in 1961 they only had 2 hours of programming in French or Haitian Creole despite the fact that about 90% of Haitians speak only Creole and about 5% speak primarily French. It's a bit daft but after 10 years they finally began recruiting local Haitians to create programming in creole.
In 1960 they also began locally distributing pre-tuned radios called "Go-Ye" radios. Whatever the stated intentions of the program, it reminds me of a similar practice in North Korea. Radio and TV sets in North Korea are supplied pre-tuned to state-run North Korean  stations. Citizens are not permitted choice. There it is actually illegal to tune into foreign broadcasts. While 4VEH lacks the enforcement power of a government entity, the lack of choice inherent in poverty re-defines their programing as propaganda.
4VEH still operates today. They have 4 FM signals on the island and one AM signal and their programming is almost exclusively French or Creole.  The expansion was slow and steady. In 1968 they added an annex. In 1976 they put on another addition which included new studios and in 1980 they did another large remodeling.  Rev. G.T. Bustin died in 1995 at the age of 92. Mr. Paul Shirk, engineer, died in 1996 at the age of 89.  In 1996, 4VEH began distributing solar-powered radios, they've given away about 60,000 of them so far, with a goal of distributing 250,000. Sadly even in 2020 these are still pre-tuned (fix-tuned) devices expanding their captive audience. [SOURCE]

No comments:

Post a Comment