"This is WVUV..."
WVUV Radio in American Samoa
by Bill Reiker
After a 35 year broadcast career in the U.S., I took some time off in
1989 to sail by myself on my small boat to the South Pacific. I stopped
in the Marquesas, Tahiti, Bora Bora and finally American Samoa.
Bumper sticker promoting Pacific coverage of WVUV, 1983.
It was there that I went to work at WVUV as an announcer and later station
manager. Bill Faulkerson was general manager.
At the time the offices were in Pago Pago at Pago Plaza with the
actual studios, transmitter and tower on the other side of the island
near Leone in the small village of Vialoa. For most of the time I lived
on my boat in the harbor and took a 45 minute bus ride to work everyday.
Ultimately, the station obtained a rental car for me to get around.
WVUV operated 24 hours a day. Although we were licensed for 10,000
watts, we broadcast only 1kW or 5kW (I forget). The ancient control
board was either Collins or RCA and could very well have been WWII vintage,
with tubes and lots of relays. The music was played on Rusko turntables.
The commercials were mostly on tape cartridge and played on older American
cart machines (probably Spartomatic). We also played some commercials
on cassette when we'd run out of carts. It was found to be very cost
effective to just use very cheap cassette decks. The station obtained
a quantify of them for about $80 each. With 24 hour a day use they'd
last 6 months or a year. Since repairs were not practical, we'd just toss out a broken machine and plug in a new one.
Our auxiliary power was from a diesel generator that was utilized
almost daily. The government owned power company had very old turbines
that would fail frequently. Most businesses on the island had their
own generators. Our neighbors in the small village would sometimes complain
about the generator noise when it would engage in the middle of the
night. It made a fair amount of racket.
Design detail of WVUV logo from listener confirmation (QSL) card, 1983.
When I first went to work at the station we got U.S. network news
from NBC in the following way: Once every 4 hours the announcer would
telephone a number in Hawaii that would automatically play over the
phone line a local all news station. Our announcer would record the
5 minute network newscast off the phone onto cassette and then play
it on the air in American Samoa every hour until it was updated. Of
course, it was quite redundant and sounded just awful, like it was coming
out of a soup can. Life would have been much easier if we'd just been
able to take a news feed from a satellite. The problem with that was
the domestic U.S. satellites that carried network news were
too low on the horizon.
We ultimately found out that the U.S. Armed Forces Radio and TV
Service had a satellite that we could receive in the region that carried
all the networks and many other programming services. We obtained the
equipment to receive it and the quality was fine. It was up and running
just in time for the Gulf War and for the first time in history American
Samoa had live news from America. The only technical problem involved
the fact the AFRTS satellite was very old and it's position was not
Over a 24 hour period it would wander around the heavens a bit, requiring
the announcer to reposition the dish from time to time. This was done
manually by turning up the volume on the cue speaker, stepping outside
the back door and adjusting the dish by ear.
The programming was sort of a hybrid adult contempory presentation
with a mixture of AC, country and Samoan language songs. Believe it
or not, that was the exact mix everybody liked. A typical hour might
include Barbara Streisand, Garth Brooks and religious songs in Samoan.
The station sold local advertising and business was fairly brisk.
In many ways it sounded like a typical small town American station.
Sponsorship was sold on special events like ball games and boat races.
One unique Samoan tradition involved funeral programs. A family
would buy a 5 minute program that featured hymns, prayer and kind words
about the dearly departed. These mini-funerals would be sold and scheduled
like regular commercials. Sometimes I'd be rockin' and boppin' at 7
A.M. doing my morning show only to break for a quick funeral... and
then return to more light hearted fun. I suppose it sounds weird to
an outsider, but that's how it had always been done.
Design detail of WVUV logo from listener confirmation (QSL) card, 1970.
Swains Island was a tiny island many miles to the north and inhabited
by just a few families. The government maintained contact with the island
by way of single sideband radio for medical emergencies, weather alerts,
supply boat schedules, etc. Since keeping the 2-way radio on all the
time would run down the automobile battery powering it, they would simply
listen to WVUV on small portable radios (powered by D cells, I suppose)
to learn when they were to turn on the communications radio for a contact.
When the government would occasionally ask us to alert them to a radio
call we would do so at a predetermined time, usually right after our legal station
identification at 12 noon. The wordage would be something like, "This
is WVUV, American Samoa. It's 12 o'clock noon. Attention Swains Island,
short wave radio communication is scheduled for 1500 hours today. Repeat,
radio contact is scheduled for 1500 hours today. And now it's time for
the news from NBC..." It was truly a case of commercial broadcast
radio providing a critical community service.
Today I'm back in California working at oldies radio, K-Earth 101
in Los Angeles (using the name Bill Stevens). Of course, the on air
presentation is very professional and the equipment is state of the
art. But I'll never forget those happy and crazy days on that far-flung
Pacific Island and that little radio station. They form some of my happiest
This article was originally prepared for radiodx.com
Images are from the David Ricquish Collection © Radio Heritage Foundation