Guatemala Menu Main Menu What's New Best of this Site Radio History Clandestine Radio

Wayne Berger's Homebrewed Radio
In Guatemala

By Don Moore

A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in the June, 1988 issue of Monitoring Times magazine.


It's a rare day when a visitor to a radio station arrives to see the director welding the back door on. At Guatemala's TGN, there's not much director Wayne Berger hasn't done. Maintaining the transmitters and studio equipment is only part of Wayne's job as engineer/interim manager. Anything that needs fixed ends up in the shop. That day he had the help of missionary Bob Rice.

Most of the equipment and transmitters used at the station is designed and built in the shop. "Equipment is born, repaired, and meets its end here", Wayne states. Some is made from parts of old commercial equipment. "Its cheaper to buy junk from the US and rebuild it than to buy commercial equipment". Bob Rice hastens to add "We're willing to own commercial equipment." If anyone wants to make a donation, Bob said, their big needs are a new jeep for going up the mountain and a new FM transmitter.

Wayne laughed and said it was too bad he was too busy to take me out to the transmitter site on Anacoche Mountain south of town. The road's so bad, that the twenty mile trip takes six hours. A jeep without shock absorbers doesn't make for a comfortable ride. Not by choice, Wayne usually has to go out at least once a week , and sometimes once a day. If its not one transmitter acting up, its another. TGN's big problem right now is the FM transmitter. Everytime the power goes off, however briefly, Wayne has to go up the mountain to readjust it. "It keeps us jumping," he notes. And if that's not enough, after returning he has to weld the jeep's muffler back on!


Wayne has gift for electronics. Growing up just north of Baltimore, Maryland, he starting out repairing radio and television sets in grade school and high school. Later he spent time working for FM station WADC in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, during what he calls the "early days of FM". He spent a summer in Guatemala with TGN, then returned to the US to attend college in Georgia.

He earned his way by working as engineer for six small rural radio stations. Every morning he was up at six am to drive around and take readings on the various transmitters. His classes started at eight am, so he would do whatever repairs were needed after school. One would guess his major was radio engineering, but actually he studied Theology. Electronics came from experience.


When Wayne went to work for TGN in 1967, the semi-commercial AM transmitter frequently broke down. The station was only on the air for eight to ten hours a day. To make matters worse, the transmitter would suddenly and unpredictably go off the air forcing Wayne to drive out and put it back on. At times, before he got back to the city it would go off again, he remembers. "You can't hold listeners that way," he adds. Permission received from the government allowed the station to close two weeks for repairs. In just two days hard work Wayne completly stripped and rebuilt the transmitter using army surplus and other miscellanous parts. "It never gave any more trouble," he says proudly.

Also using surplus parts, he built the shortwave transmitters from scratch. The 3300 khz transmitter is a "homemade clunker" made out of the very worst parts, he says. Furthermore each transmitter was built in a metal clothes cabinet - a cheaper option than commercial transmitter cabinets. When new tubes and other parts are bought, there is a pecking order determining which transmitter gets the best equipment. New parts go into the AM transmitter and those they replace are put into the 3300khz transmitter. From 3300 khz, parts are passed down to the 5955 khz transmitter, and finally to the backup AM transmitter.

The much maligned FM transmitter is, if nothing else, a collector's item. It is one of only five made in the 1950s by a small company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1968 the FCC said these were unstable, and had to be taken off the air. Deported, one ended up at TGN where it's "now more or less stable," according to Wayne.

Aside from the cost, which TGN simply cannot afford, Wayne says that commercial equipment doesn't live through the frequent electric power outages or the intense use it gets at TGN. Anything that isn't built in the shop eventually passes through. Wayne has fixed computers, televisions, tape recorders, medical sterilizers, and heating equipment, among other things. On a typical afternoon an engineer from a local TV station may come by to test some parts while a Guatemalan missionary from Barillas pops in to say that their X-Ray machine needed fixing.

One thing he hasn't fixed is the sign on by the front door. Huge wooden letters "TGN" were mounted on the wall, lighted with a spotlight, until they were machine-gunned to pieces five years ago. They "weren't out to get us - it was just a nice lighted target," comments Wayne. During those troubled years it was no telling what soldiers driving around town in a jeep might do. Wayne plans to put up some back-lighted aluminum letters that he hopes would withstand bullets. I "don't want to put another target up," he says.


Although the antenna site is difficult to reach, it is an excellant location, possibly the best in the country. At 7,200 feet, it overlooks several major valleys. The FM signals can be received as far away as Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean coast, and even into Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras with an ERP of just eleven kilowatts. Once while on top of the antenna installing a repeater, company workers talked to people all over the country just using a walkie-talkie. Therefore the tower is much in demand for repeaters. Several are mounted on it, including those of the local Ham radio club, the Guatemala City fire department, and several commercial firms. Wayne guesses that the fee charged commercial firms is below market value. The Ham club and fire department use the tower gratis.

Although not the tallest, the antenna tower is the most massive in combined width and height in Guatemala. Constructed of heavy steel, it weighs nine tons, and is 330 feet high. "Shunt fed" and grounded, there is no RF in the tower itself. Thus it can be climbed even when the station is on the air.


As to frequency management, Wayne explains that the govern- ment "doesn't let us choose where we want to be in the band", but instead assigns frequencies. Officially the main shortwave frequency is 5955 khz with limited usefulness because "Radio Canada knocks me out on 49 meters," Wayne points out. TGN's ten kilowatts can't compete with two hundred and fifty kilowatts five kilohertz away. He says that 31 meters is worse than 49. Their assigned 31 MB frequency is 9505 khz, also used by Radio Japan. "No way I can fight them," laughs Wayne. Raising power is out of the question as Guatemalan law prohibits non-government stations from using more than 10 kilowatts. Wayne has thought about applying for a 60 meter band frequency, but that band is already over populated.

Because of interferance on the higher bands, 3300 khz is TGN's primary SW frequency. On 90 meters their ten kilowatts is a powerhouse, not a pipsqueak. How and why they ended up on 3300 khz is probably one of the most bizarre cases of frequency selection in the history of shortwave. Actually they are not even licensed for 3300 khz - it is a substitute frequency added to their 49 meter license.

When they applied for the 90 meter band in the early 1970s, government officials didn't want to give it to them. However at that time the Guatemalan government was pushing its never ending claim that Belize is really Guatemalan territory, and was trying to to make Belizeans believe they were Guatemalans. The Guatemalan "government wanted more programming from Guatemala to be heard in Belize," explains Wayne. TGN claimed they would be heard in Belize on 90 meters. Although convinced that TGN couldn't do it, the government did assign them a 90 meter band frequency. The frequency was 3300 khz, which just happened to be Radio Belize's shortwave frequency at the time! "For two years we battled it out and after a long enough time, they moved. The government here I think on purpose put me on top, " says Wayne.


TGN actually operates two different radio stations: the AM, which is always parallel to the shortwave; and the FM. Wayne says "there are two audiences and they don't like each other." The FM station attracts upper middle class listeners because its programming is the more neutral, i.e. less religous, of the two. It plays a lot of classical music for example. The programming on the AM station is predominately Christian Evangelist and has more of a lower-middle class and lower class audience.

Located just inside TGN's front entrance, both stations have seperate studios and control rooms. Additionally there are facilities for playing prerecorded programs because very �little of the programming is done live - most is recorded for later re- broadcast. Up to six hours of programming can be played without changing the tape.

Some programs are rebroadcast several times over the years. TGN has what Wayne believes to be the largest record and tape library in Central America. The collection is mostly reel to reel tapes of programs made here in the past. Included are seasonal programs broadcast annually and others which are rebroadcast less often. A section for compact discs was recently added.


Shortwave listeners in North America are most interested in the English programs from TGN. Most of these are not produced locally, but rather are transcription programs from US minis-tries, which pay the station to run them. Monday through Saturday, English is from 9:00-10:30 pm (0300-0430 UTC) and in- cludes programs such as Back to the Bible, Through the Bible, and Insight for Living.

On Sunday some of the English programs are locally produced. Sunday's schedule is longer, from 6:45-10:00 pm (0045 -0400 UTC). Aside from an airing of Unshackled and a few short features, most of Sunday's broadcast is a program called Music in the Post Meridian. Since Wayne is presently the only English announcer at the station, naturally the honors fall to him. Music in the Post Meridian is designed to be a live program with soft music and responses to listners' mail. But Wayne's schedule usually makes live programming impossible, so he set it up to be automated. He recorded a variety of generic announcements such as "Well I hope you liked that song. Let's see what else we have here to play. Here's a favorite of mine," so that the non-English speaking technician can play an announcement after every two or three songs to give the impression of a live program. "I fool a lot of people that way" Wayne jokes.

In addition to the English program, there are also daily broadcasts from 0430-0600 local time (1030-1200 UTC) in the four major Indian languages of Guatemala; Quich�, Mam, Cakchiquel, and Kekch�, with a different language each day. Broadcasting in native languages was begun a few years ago. After the 1976 earthquake many rural people whose homes were destroyed moved to the capital. Immigration continued through the early 1980s as the guerilla war heated up in some parts of the country. Typical woven wall hangings made by listeners for the station's anniversaries demonstrate their appreciation.


TGN is owned and operated by The Central American Mission of Dallas, Texas, also called CAM International. It is only a small part of CAM. The mission directory lists 285 couples working with CAM, but only two are assigned to TGN, notes Wayne. The station is funded from several sources. About 40% is raised locally from offerings and special collections while an additional 40% comes from CAM. The remaining 20% is raised by selling time to American evangelists for nightly English trans-cription programs.

However, if money ever gets really tight at TGN, taking out a wall and selling it might solve the problem. In a second story conferance room (called the Sala Atitlan) one entire wall is a beautiful colorful landscape painting done by a now famous artist. The painting of Lake Atitlan was the work of Guatemalan artist Deleon Campos, who starting out working at TGN in the 1950s and painting in his spare time. Now famous, his paintings sell for hundreds of dollars. Campos estimates TGN's painted wall is worth $30,000.

Another interesting room in the TGN building is the recital hall, with a baby grand piano. Students from a nearby music school practice on it and in exchange help record music for different programs. It was originally set up for live radio broadcasts or to record TV programs. TGN used to make TV programs and then buy time on local TV stations, which was discontinued because of the high cost. In the adjoining control room, Wayne points to the console which he built in 1967. "Haven't even changed a fuse in it," he remarks.


TGN's shortwave outlet is the easiest way to verify Guatemala. The station receives about 4,000 letters a month, mainly from listeners in Guatemala and neighboring countries. The mailing list of local listeners' addresses is computerized. Actual SWL/DX reports number about 80-90 a month.

Wayne checks the accuracy of every report and notes that TGN is probably one of the few radio stations that still do. Each correct report is answered with a QSL card, and if the report can't be verified Wayne writes to tell the reporter why. Some-times angry hobbyists write back complaining about their unverified report. Wayne then responds with a QSL card with "SAMPLE" written across it and explains that if he receives a correct report he'll send a real QSL.

The QSL card, which pictures a Quetzal bird - the national symbol of Guatemala - has been used for years. However it seems every new batch that comes back from the printers looks a little fainter and sloppier, notes Wayne. Presently TGN is also sending small pennants to DXers. If writing, DXers should include two IRCs or a US dollar to pay for return postage. There address is: TGN, Radio Cultural/Apartado 601/Guatemala City/Guatemala.

1996 Addendum: TGN's shortwave frequency of 3300 continues to be easy to hear in North American evenings and the station continues to verify reception reports. English is on most or maybe every night after 0300 UTC.


This article is copyright 1988 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.

This website is maintained by Don Moore,
Association of North American Radio Clubs
DXer of the Year for 1995

My Address Is In This Graphic