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The Unique Story of TI4NRH

By Don Moore

A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in the March, 1993 issue of Monitoring Times magazine.


A few summers ago, when my wife and I traveled to Costa Rica for three weeks, one of my goals was to learn what I could of a Tico broadcaster of days-gone-by, Amando Cespedes Marin's TI4NRH in Heredia. I had seen mentions of TI4NRH in radio history articles, and although TI4NRH had been gone for years, I hoped to find exactly where it had been located from older townspeople. With luck, the building would still be standing and would make an interesting picture.

The first few people I asked only gave me puzzled glances, but soon a shop owner replied "Oh, yes. His daughter, Lydylia, is a good friend of mine. She still lives in the same house, down the street two blocks and around the corner. There's a plaque on the door." Could it be true? I hurried down the street and found the house, with a plaque commemorating it as the birthplace of Costa Rican radio. I knocked, and an elderly woman came to the door. I introduced myself and explained my interest in the station. She was ecstatic that a foreigner would come to learn about her father after so many years. She was on her way out, but invited me to return with Theresa that evening.

We talked about her father and his station for nearly an hour. Finally, it seemed as if we had passed some sort of test. She opened a locked door and invited us into a room adjoining the living room. Old newspapers and boxes were strewn about, the light was dim, and a thick blanket of dust covered everything, but there was no doubt about it. Although the station had been gone for nearly fifty years, everything was still there - transmitters, microphones, reception reports, even hundreds of yellowing ham cards stapled to the walls. This was radio history paradise.

Amanddo Cespedes Marin

Amando Cespedes Marin was born on August 1, 1881 in a little house in central San Jose. Soon after, his family moved to the Caribbean port of Puerto Limon where his father got a job with the customs office. Young Amando taught himself English while in primary school, and as a boy began earning money by teaching English to Costa Ricans and Spanish to Jamaican migrant workers. He planned to travel to New York City and look up relatives there. As he noted later, "In those days you didn't even need papers to get into the U.S." Soon he had saved the 360 colones to buy a steamer passage and although only eleven years old was on his way to New York City, alone, to seek his fortune. In New York, Amando found that his relatives had moved and no one knew where to. But, luck shone on him and an American couple took him in and taught him to be, in his words, "a little gentleman".

In New York Amando continued to work as a Spanish teacher during the day, and went to night school in the evening. Later, he found work assisting a traveling merry-go-around salesman. For several years, they journeyed together throughout the U.S. and Canada. Then one day his boss looked at a map and saw Costa Rica. Turning to Amando, he said, "We've never sold anything there. Get ready to travel to your country."

Several weeks later, Amando arrived in Puerto Limon. The boy, now a young man, had changed so much that his family didn't recognize him at first. But, family wasn't the reason for the visit; Amando had brought with him a steam-driven carrousel. Nothing like this had ever been seen before in his tiny country. He set it up in Puerto Limon and made 3000 colones profit the first night. Within a few days, there wasn't a single Limonense who hadn't ridden it. Amando took it to San Jose, where it also proved an instant success. A few days later a businessman bought the carrousel from him for $10,000. Amando faithfully bought another ticket to the U.S. to pay his boss. But his boss had never really expected him to return. He looked the teenage entrepreneur in the eyes and said, "I have never given you anything. The 10,000 dollars, it's yours."

Suddenly rich, Amando pursued another of his many dreams by attendng and graduating from the Illinois College of Photography in Effingham. He learned the trade well, and in 1901 opened a photography shop in Puerto Limon. He did excellent work and prospered, so he soon branched into printing, starting and editing Costa Rica's first national newspaper. In 1904 he was part of Costa Rica's delegation to the St. Louis Exhibition (World's Fair), at which he won a silver medal in photography.

Always a man of science, Don Amando was fascinated by technology and when motion pictures became popular in the U.S., he brought the first movie to Costa Rica and showed it in San Jose's Teatro Variedades. Soon after, he bought a Kodak movie camera and made the first movie in Costa Rica, filming a conference at the same theater. Later he filmed the arrival of the first plane in Costa Rica, of which he noted "The pilot bought the film at a good price." Finally, matrimony caught up with him, and in December, 1911, he maried Rosita Arias. Soon after he moved his new family and print shop to the little town of Heredia, a few miles from San Jose.

Radio Beginnings

Don Amando was always looking for something new to do, and in the early 1920s, radio was it. He got some American radio magazines, and on November 2, 1923 built a one tube regenerative set. His evenings were filled with listening to stations like KSD, WGY, WSAI, WTAM, KFKX, KGO, and CYB. He began sending reception reports, and his first QSL was from a Mexican station. He continued receiving U.S. radio magazines and built bigger and better receivers. Other Costa Ricans were also interested in hearing these voices from far away, and soon Don Amando had a one man receiver factory. He remembered later, "I made about 800 receivers, which I sold to anyone who asked me. Such was the interest in radio, that one day I had more than 40 cars in front of my house, their drivers looking for radios."

Soon Don Amando felt the urge to transmit, and in December, 1924 he built a pair of MW transmitters using 201-tubes and talked with a friend five miles away. A few days later he broadcast some phonograph records and fooled some other friends into thinking they were hearing an American station. For the next two years, he continued to experiment with MW transmitters until in January, 1927 he began regular AM broadcasting with a five watt transmitter. The new station, Costa Rica's first, was popular, but couldn't be heard very far, so he decided to experiment with shortwave in hopes of reaching farmers up to 100 miles away.

His first shortwave transmitter used 6 tubes with 7 1/2 watts output, and measured just 10x8 inches. On May 4, 1928, the new SW station was ready to go on 39 meters. As Don Amando explained later, "Due to my interest in radio, I tried to eliminate wire from the MW tubes to convert the station to shortwave. For better reception, I put a fifteen meter bamboo antenna on the roof. Such was the surprise when my wife Rosita heard me at 10 meters, I asked her "How many eggs have the hens layed? ... The surprise was bigger when a letter arrived from Gatun, Panama saying he had heard me saying those exact words... This was very emotional to me and I decided to dedicate myself to SW". That first report, the first reception report ever to a Latin American shortwave station, was from Henry P. Karr*, an American living in the Panama Canal Zone.

A few weeks later he received a report from Guayaquil, Ecuador, 1200 miles distant, and on July 1 a Havana newspaper mentioned monitoring TI4NRH. Soon more letters were received from the Caribbean, Central and South America. TI4NRH wasn't noticed in the U.S. until the October, 1928 issue of Radio News, when Charles Schroeder of Philadelphia mentioned hearing but not being able to identify a Costa Rican station. By this time, Don Amando had changed frequency from 39 meters to 30 meters. North American DXers began looking for the station, and by December, 1928, he was flooded with reports. Schroeder had soon identified the station and sent the first reception report from the United States. In appreciation, Don Amando had a chair of Costa Rican tropical woods made for him. The chair was made of disassembled pieces for easy shipping with written instructions for their assembly, a rare practice in those days. Shipped by sea mail, the chair arrived in just 12 days according to Schroeder!

(This chair still exists! See the photos at the Costa Rica Radio Gaphics & Photos menu.)

More Letters

Don Amando soon began receiving reports from all over the Americas and other continents, as well as ships at sea. Sometimes he would get over 100 letters in a single day. J.M Adair heard TI4NRH at Guantanamo Naval Base and wrote, "When I finally heard your announcement, I was sure that I had a station in Arabia. There is quite a bit of similarity between Heredia and Arabia" Leo R. Schultis of Richmond Hill, NY noted "I was marvelled at your announcement that you were using only 7 1/2 watts and 500 volts on plate. Hold on to the transmitter you are using because it is a good one." Henry Hart of Wankie, Rhodesia heard TI4NRH at 1 A.M., his local time, on December 30, 1930 when he couldn't sleep because of a toothache. Tuning his Pilot radio, he came across Spanish music, then an English ID. He wrote "I have to thank you for the broadcast because I forgot my tooth pane. How delicious I did feel then..."

A DXer himself, Don Amando knew that DXers wanted QSLs, and he obliged. He used his printing and photography skills to produce some of the most attractive QSLs ever issued, and churned them out by the thousands. Every letter was answered. As The Panama American noted, "Nothing pleases Mr. Cespedes more than hearing from his unseen audience. A note to him about his station and his programs will promptly bring a form card or lengthly letter in reply." Meanwhile, the Costa Rican government noted the international goodwill for Costa Rica that TI4NRH was creating, and on June 19, 1929 decreed that thereafter Don Amando's mail would not cost him a cent as his work was considered a diplomatic service. It was a good thing, too. By the end of 1939, TI4NRH received and answered over 110,000 reports in 11 1/2 years of broadcasting!

Don Amando's listeners and radio friends in the U.S. and elsewhere sent him hundreds of magazines of newspapers. The ones he liked best were those that had articles about TI4NRH and the DXers who tuned him in. Not only did radio magazines such as Radio News, Radio Design, and RADEX write about TI4NRH, but so did the mainstream press. Among the many newspapers that published stories about TI4NRH were the Pittsburgh Press, Boston Globe, Buffalo Evening News, Youngstown Vindicator, Syracuse Herald, Philadelphia Public Ledger, and the Springfield News- Sun.

Although Don Amando's print shop remained his livelihood; TI4NRH became his life. Despite demands of business and family, he always maintained a regular schedule, although it did change from time to time. The broadcasts were usually an hour long, starting at 9:30 or 9:45 pm CST. Sometimes he was on nightly and other times on three nights a week, generally Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Each broadcast began with The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, to allow DXers time to tune in. He got out well on 31 meters, but changed frequency seveal times. TI4NRH had a loyal following of listeners throughout the the world, and while the programming was simple - music and small talk, no one ever felt shorted on entertainment. Often Don Amando's daughter and three sons would join him. His youngest son, Alvarito, made his first appearance at 45 days old by crying into the microphone.

Although SW was his love, Don Amando continued his AM station for local coverage, and even it was sometimes heard by DXers. An article in the Chicago Daily News of March 21, 1931 told how F. Stetson of Chicago received the first U.S. QSL for reception of Don Amando's new 75 watt transmitter on 948 kHz on December 20, 1930. The MW station changed frequency several times and was eventually moved to San Jose and given to one of Don Amando's sons.

Low Power

When Don Amando went on the air in 1928, TI4NRH became only the fifth SW broadcasting station in the world, and the first from Latin America. However, his low power didn't even compare with the four other SW stations. KDKA and WGY were using 50,000 watts, Philips in Holland 40,000, and the BBC 30,000. No one could believe that TI4NRH could be using just 7 1/2 watts. The Westinghouse Company sent 2 KDKA engineers to confirm TI4NRH's power, and they proved Don Amando wrong - the engineers measured only 5 watts! They even used the transmitter to call their Pittsburgh office and report 5 watts and 500 volts. After that KDKA engineer Mr. Evans named Don Amando KDKA's little brother. Don Amando returned the favor by calling KDKA his big brother, and regularly relayed KDKA over his MW transmitter for Tico listeners.

Although TI4NRH was getting out well enough with very low power, many listeners begged Don Amando to increase power to be heard more easily. He appealed to listeners for funds for equipment, and as TI4NRH had proven itself a DXer's friend, the DX World responded. Soon he had enough to buy parts for a 150 watt transmitter. With further assistance, he was using 200 watts by 1933 and 500 watts by 1938. The biggest gift came in 1938 when, as Don Amando later wrote, "At 10 years of NRH, the world celebrated perifonias in the memory from Berlin to Buenos Aires. US radio hobbyists made a gift of an iron antenna tower as a prize for my efforts." President Cortes waived import duties on the tower and arranged for an elaborate ceremony to be held upon completion of its construction at Don Amando's house. The military band played and Presdient Cortes gave a speech awarding Don Amando a special diploma.

Famous Friends

Don Amando had a way of meeting interesting people. During one of Richard Byrd's Antartic expeditions, Don Amando kept in 2 way radio contact with the expedition for several days using his 7 1/2 watt transmitter. On the way home, Byrd's ship docked in Costa Rica and the Admiral journeyed to Heredia for a visit.

In the mid-1930s, Don Amando and 2 of his children traveled through Central America and Mexico visiting some of his many radio friends. When they arrived at the Guatemala City train station from El Salvador, listener Juan Guillen picked them up in a chauffered car. After a motortour of the city, they arrived at Senor Guillen's residence, the Guatemalan Palacio Presidencial! Senor Guillen revealed that the name was only his radio pseudonym. In reality he was General Jorge Ubico, el presidente. Don Amando and his children spent a week at the palace and the general's coffee farm outside the city. For the remainder of their time in Guatemala, they were accompanied by a military honor guard and were received as honored guests by government officials in many towns and cities. Per General Ubico's wishes, all the expenses of their travels in Guatemala were paid for by the government.

A few years later while bandscanning on his receiver, Don Amando picked up some American sports fishermen talking from Costa Rica's Cocos Island. Don Amando broke into the communication and asked them who gave them permission to fish in Costa Rican waters. Back came the reply, "Well, nobody, because there's nobody here to ask it of - only the tuna and I." The speaker was Commander Eugene Francis McDonald, Jr., owner of Zenith Corporation. They continued the conversation and a friendship formed. The Commander sailed his yacht to the mainland and went to Heredia to visit Don Amando. Later, Commander McDonald chose Don Amando to publish a Spanish magazine, Cenit (Zenith) to promote radio and Zenith in Latin America. With Zenith's financial sponsorship, Don Amando published the monthly magazine for the rest of his life. It was sent free to his friends and numerous radio hobbyists in Latin America.

The Final Years

When World War II came along, Don Amando cut back his transmissions and then ended broadcasting all together. He was in his sixties and semi-retired, ready to pursue other interests. Now much of his time went to setting up letter networks among people in Latin America to support international friendship. Cenit magazine, with the continued support of Zenith, turned from being a radio publication to one focusing on international understanding. His efforts were so well respected that in the early 1970s hundreds of letters were written from Latin America to the Nobel Prize Commission in Oslo, nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Don Amando wanted to live to be 100, and very well may have. But on March 17, 1976 he journeyed down to the coast to watch an eclipse. While there he caught a cold and three days later died at home. He was not forgotten, however. His adopted hometown of Heredia named a street after him, and the Rotary Club put up plaques honoring his achievements. In 1981, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, he was awarded Costa Rica's highest honor, the Benemerito de la Patria.

Although Don Amando and TI4NRH are gone from the shortwave dial, the station lives on. Don Amando's AM station in San Jose, stayed under his son's management for many years, and then was sold to a businessman, who renamed it Radio Lira. A few years later, the station was sold to the Adventist church, which moved it to the suburb of Alajuela and has been gradually adding shortwave transmitters. Today, TI4NRH's grandchild, Radio Lira, is one of the principal international broadcasters of Latin America. Don Amando would be proud.

* Karr's U.S. address was 700 Oped St., Great Bend, KS. If any KS DXers could locate his family and the QSL still exists, it would be quite a find! It was the first Latin American SW QSL.

This article is copyright 1992 by Don Moore. It may not be printed in any publication without written permission. Permission is granted for all interested readers to share and pass on the ASCII text file of this article or to print it out for personal use. In such case, your comments on the article would be appreciated.


Check the Costa Rica Radio Gaphics & Photos menu for some photos and old QSLs of TI4NRH plus some scanned pages from one of Don Amando's old radio magazines.

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DXer of the Year for 1995

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