EAST AFRICAN REPORT
BY CHRIS GREENWAY
ARTICLE FROM COMMUNICATION - EDITION 336 - NOVEMBER 2002
EXPEDITION TO KOMA ROCK
One of the radio-related web sites I find impressive
is Ludo Maes's Transmitter Documentation Project (TDP). Among other things, it
attempts to list all of the world's known transmitter sites ever used by
shortwave broadcasters, with some information going back many decades. The
Kenyan section lists four shortwave transmitter sites: Kisumu, Mombasa, Langata
and Koma Rock. I know that both Kisumu and Mombasa closed at least 20 years ago
(if not much further back), but what about Langata and Koma Rock?
The Langata station is relatively familiar to me, being located about seven miles southwest of Nairobi city centre, and just three or four miles from where I work. The TDP listing says that six shortwave transmitters have been installed at Langata at various times over the years (2 x 5kW, 2 x 10kW and 2 x 100kW). I know that at present the station is only used to carry the KBC's Eastern Service on a single frequency (4915 kHz). According to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation's own web site, this is from a 10kW unit. If the TDP information is correct, this would be a Marconi transmitter installed at Langata in 1959.
And what of the fourth site, Koma Rock? TDP says that one 20kW transmitter and two 250kW senders were installed there (in 1976 and 1984 respectively).
I know that the 250kW units were originally intended for use by a Kenyan external service that in the end never got on the air. But is the Koma Rock site still in existence? This was the question I set out to answer one Sunday back in August. Koma Rock is now a housing estate on the eastern outskirts of Nairobi and so, equipped with map and compass, I headed out there. I had noticed adverts in a local paper promoting the sale of plots of land in Koma Rock, saying they were "adjacent to the KBC", so I was hopeful of finding at least something. In the end, and to cut quite a long story short, I discovered that the KBC site no longer exists. Local residents were able to point me towards roughly where it used to be, and I'm fairly confident that I can now say where it was to within about half-a-mile. But I discovered no remnants of it: no signboards, no buildings and certainly no antenna masts or towers. The area is now in the process of being built up with residential and industrial premises. It seems to have been quite a good choice for a transmitting site: flat, open ground adjacent to a main road.
I wonder what happened to the transmitters, in particular those two 250kW ones?
Incidentally, the TDP web site gives the coordinates of the Koma Rock site as 37.09 degrees east, 1.16 degrees south. On my map, that places it well over 20 miles to the east of Nairobi, in fact outside the boundaries of Nairobi Province. My own estimate is that the site is (or, rather, was) at 36.55 east, 1.16 south. That's about seven miles east-northeast of Nairobi city centre.
Before I leave the subject of Kenyan shortwave, here's a small piece of good news. The KBC's only remaining shortwave outlet - the Eastern Service on 4915 kHz (from the above-mentioned Langata site) - has extended its schedule. It's on the air Monday-Friday at 0300-0700 and 1300-1910 GMT. In Europe, evening reception during the winter is likely to be marred by co-channel Ghana. However, for early risers (or late-to-bedders) the 0300 sign-on may offer a good chance. Listen for a distinctive flute-and-drum interval signal, followed by the rather mournful Kenyan national anthem. The English phrase "KBC Eastern Service" is used as an ID, even when the
announcement is given in an African language. Sunrise in Nairobi varies by only a few minutes either side of 0330 GMT throughout the year, and so the signal is likely to fade out by 0430 GMT or shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, the service doesn't operate at weekends.
UPDATE ON KOMA ROCK: Following up on the above report, published in the Nov 2002 issue of Communication, radio engineer Enrico Li Perni writes: I would like to inform you about the whereabouts of the KBC Koma Rock shortwave station that the author was not able to find the station itself, writing instead that it probably was dismantled together with its transmitting masts. Well, the transmitting station is still there and has still got the two Thompson 250 kW shortwave transmitters, albeit not functional from my last visit in August this year. The two antennas, four supporting masts for directional dipoles, are 80% functional from a mechanical survey, lacking few isolators at the motorised changeover switch located at the base of the four masts. (BDXC Communication Nov 2010) Newly updated images on Google maps in 2018 show that the Koma Rock masts are still standing and appear from a distance to be in good condition.
EXPEDITION TO TIMBOROA AND KISUMU
On 7th October I attended the official launch of the BBC World Service's FM relay station in western Kenya. My journey there took me on a well-worn route, but one that it is always a joy. Leaving Nairobi (already at 5,500 feet above sea level), I climbed up the escarpment on the eastern side of the Great Rift Valley to over 8,000 feet, before plunging down onto the floor of the valley. Once across the valley it was a climb up the western escarpment until, in time for a picnic lunch, I arrived at Timboroa, 10,000 feet high, just a mile or so north of the equator and the site of the KBC transmitting station which is being used for the BBC relay.
The beautiful location of the Timboroa station gives coverage of millions of people living in western Kenya. The station is home to a KBC TV transmitter (10kW on VHF channel 2), two KBC radio FM transmitters (5kW each on 88.6 and 91.5) and now the BBC World Service FM relay (3kW on 88.2).
After lunch it was downhill again and by tea time I was in Kenya's third largest city, Kisumu, by the shores of Lake Victoria, where the sultry atmosphere was a contrast to the invigorating highland air I had enjoyed just a few hours earlier.
The official launch ceremony of "BBC Kisumu 88.2" was held that evening in the gardens of the British Council. It was a very pleasant occasion, with live link-ups in English and Swahili to the BBC African Service in Bush House, and dancing to a local band. Local dignitaries were joined by the chief guest, the information minister, who spoke warmly of the BBC's role in Kenya (where a third of adults are regular World Service listeners).
This is the third BBC WS relay on FM in Kenya (the others serve the Nairobi and Mombasa areas) and the BBC is already planning two more. In neighbouring Uganda, the BBC now says that "almost the whole" of the country can now receive the World Service on FM.
No transmissions have been observed from Malawi since it briefly reactivated a transmitter on 3380/7130 early this year. Other countries and territories in east and southern Africa with no shortwave broadcasting at present include Burundi, Comoros (including Mayotte), Djibouti, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique and Reunion.
Radio Uganda, whose 60-metre signals had long been regarded as "beacons" in Europe during the evening, has become unreliable on shortwave. In addition to frequent breakdowns, the transmitter for the Red Channel (4976 kHz in the early morning and evening, 7195 during the daytime) is regularly noted with lower power and poorer quality audio when compared to the Blue Channel transmitter on 5026/7110.
Radio Tanzania has reactivated the use of 7280 kHz. Unfortunately, transmissions on that frequency continue to be erratic, and it seems only to be scheduled for usage at approximately 0700-1300 GMT, restricting propagation to the region. The parallel 5050 kHz continues to be used at 0200-2100 GMT.
AND FINALLY... EXPEDITION TO READING!
November and December sees me taking leave in the UK, and I hope to see some readers of my East African Reports at the Reading radio social meeting on 23rd November.
Until then, regards from Nairobi. Chris
(c) Copyright British DX Club