By David Ricquish
The Inside Stories from WXLE DJ's
We've been fortunate to have several WXLE DJ's share their stories
with us, and tell us something about life on the 'horn' as the Canton
atoll is sometimes described.
Aerial view of Canton Island on postcard sent to WXLE listener
in New Zealand. 1975.
(Paul Ormandy Collection)
Both Larry Girard and Max Chapman worked at WXLE during the
1970's, with Larry there when the station was running just 50 watts
and not being anywhere except around the island and on aircraft
flying overhead, and Max after the station increased power to 250
watts and installed the new tower and was heard from Japan to the US
mainland and 'downunder' in both Australia and New Zealand.
Tree on the Horn with Larry Girard
The call WXLE was originally allocated to Eniwetok in Micronesia as part of the infamous Jungle Network which followed allied forces as they moved northwards towards Japan. Opened on July 16 1944, WXLE used a 50 watt transmitter on 1320 AM and broadcast for almost three years, finally closing on May 4, 1947.
WXLE Moves to Canton
Using the same call, the Eniwetok station came back later to serve U.S. military personnel through the 1960's and 1960's. The station was closed down around 1969-70. When operations on Canton Island were rapidly expanded to serve the missile launch program from Vandenberg AFB and to house a LORAN facility for guiding U.S. nuclear submarine forces, the whole WXLE facility was taken out of mothballs and shipped from Eniwetok.
The WXLE call followed the transmitter and studio facilities. This maintained the old AFRS Jungle Network practice of sometimes closing down a station at one island location during WWII, and reopening it again at another location, complete with the same call to confuse later researchers! So, this is how WXLE, tracing it's roots back to the WWII Jungle Network suddenly re-emerged on Canton Island in 1971.
Listener confirmation card (QSL) signed by Max Chapman. 1975.
(Paul Ormandy Collection)
Everything from Eniwetok was shipped to Canton. Everything. A story even appeared in a Honolulu newspaper shortly after the airfield operation at Canton was established. Apparently, aircraft landing at Canton were greeted by a 'follow me' truck with a sign on the back which still read 'Welcome to Eniwetok'. Is it any wonder DXers were equally confused when they first heard WXLE on 1385 AM in early 1973 and thought they were hearing Eniwetok!
WXLE DJ Tells the Inside Story
Larry Girard, one of the WXLE DJ's takes up the story.
I was on Kanton from August 1971 to July 1972, and worked at WXLE for several months, from around February to July 1972. I shared the 1700-1930 shift, working three to four days a week (1400-1730 on Sundays). I called myself 'The Tree on the Horn' ('Tree' is a nickname, I'm 6'5") and used some spots recorded for me by a college student (and her roommates) I was corresponding with at the time.
The first time I used one, it caused quite a stir when a sultry female voice did the station ID, as there were no women on the island at the time. One of my roommates sprinted about 150 yards to the station to investigate.
I had both general WXLE station IDs and some specific to the Tree on the Horn. The voices came from the girls at Marymount College in Detroit - I still have the original tape! I also had official WXLE IDs which came from AFRTS, but it was easier to use the unofficial ones.
All the equipment came from Eniwetok, as well as the record library. There was a gap in the collection to account for the time between WXLE closing down on Eniwetok and then restarting on Canton., but we had a substantial library. Most programing came from pre-recorded 33 rpm records supplied by Armed Forces Radio, and I also played a one hour version of Casey Kasem's American Top 40 on Tuesday nights. We then sent the tape down to American Samoa to be played on WVUV 1120 down there.
The original studio was located in the same building as the company doctor. There were plans afoot when I left the island for the new station, which was also rumored to have an FM transmitter as well as the AM outlet.
The studio equipment I used included three large turntables, a TEAC reel-to-reel and an AMPEX tape deck which was used only for American Top 40 and had to be cleaned before each use, or it wouldn't track. We could bring in an audio feed from a shortwave receiver, but rarely did due to poor quality.
WXLE studio console. 1971.
(Larry Girard Collection)
Tired of the dingy look of the console, I spent one night (after signoff) repainting it!
News was read from an Associated Press teletype supplied by the com shack. We tried doing weather reports for a while. However, they were always almost exactly the same 'temperature 90 degrees, partly cloudy' so that died an early death.
There was no tower when I was working at the station, only a top loaded goody, which was attenuated to boot. I did hear that once they upgraded the station, they got many reception reports. We sometimes had contact with a commercial airline flight which passed over us a little after 5pm each day. The stewardesses would give us music requests via the airfield radio.
The USAF weather people I worked with were fairly close to the radio folks, and were known to fill in for the regular operator's vacation time as well. The guy that usually followed my shift went by the moniker 'The Rusty Nail' and always started his show with a pre-recorded 'Bobby Troup Show' which often featured singer Julie London.
I understand the salvage people didn't leave much when the station was eventually dismantled.
Inflight music with Max Chapman
"I'm attaching a picture of the WXLE trailer. I took slides then and to transfer this picture I projected it on the wall and snapped a digital picture, sorry about the quality.
WXLE mobile studio container/building starting to look a little
worse for wear, 1975.
(Max Chapman Collection)
I haven't heard from anyone since I left the island so I don't know where Joyce is. The reference to Lowell D. White refers to Dave White, and James Nolan was known as Jim Nolan. Other prominent names around the radio station I remember are Jack Raider, Buddy Redmond and Darrell Alexander. Ted Hill, who took the aerial photo on the postcard, actually lived on the island and I had lunch with him many times. He was about 60 years old then. For the 18 months I worked there the population was about 350 so we ALL had alot of meals together in the mess hall.
The supply plane, a C-141, flew down from Honolulu every Wednesday, stopped for an hour, then went on to Pago Pago. It made the return trip from Samoa to Canton to Honolulu on Thursday. We had a doctor (or sometimes just a nurse) on the island but not a dentist, and the favorite way to get off the island was to get a toothache and have to fly to Honolulu.
Otherwise you were stuck there for 6 months when you earned a week's paid vacation and round trip fare back to point-of-hire (mine was Oakland, California).
Believe it or not some people didn't want to leave and they would fly to Los Angeles or somewhere for breakfast just to use their free airfare and come right back."
Phoenix Islands Protected Area
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Kiribati, just five degrees
south of the equator. PIPA is the world’s first large, truly deep water MPA. As a vast expanse of largely
pristine mid-ocean environments, PIPA is truly an oceanic wilderness. Encompassing 408,250 square kilometers
(157,626 square miles) and 11% of Kiribati’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), PIPA represents one of Earth’s
last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems. The remoteness of the area and the absence of permanent
human settlement provide a unique opportunity for a high standard of habitat protection for species and
ecosystems of global importance to science and conservation, from islands to deep ocean.
Within its boundaries, it includes all eight atoll and low reef islands of the Kiribati section of the
Phoenix Island group: Rawaki, Enderbury, Nikumaroro, McKean, Manra, Birnie, Kanton and Orona. It also includes
two submerged reefs, Carondelet Reef and Winslow Reef, with Carondelet Reef being as little as 3 to 4 meters
underwater at low tide. The coral reefs of the Phoenix Islands are what a reef might have looked like a thousand
years ago before the presence of humankind’s impacts, such as coastal development, pollution, and over fishing.
The Radio Heritage Foundation supports the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the initiatives of organizations
such as the New England Aquarium to improve our understanding of the area and its importance.
We have been able to contribute in a very small way by licensing material from our collections to help illustrate
their fund raising book ‘Underwater Eden: Saving the Last Coral Wilderness on Earth’ published in 2013.
By buying this book, you’re contributing to both the Phoenix Islands Protected Area project, an initiative of the
Government of the Republic of Kiribati, and the Radio Heritage Foundation.