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Don Moore's Honduran Journal

Part One

(In 1986, I put together this DX account of my time in Honduras using both memories and a number of shorter pieces and information that I had sent in to several DX publications. I intended to find some method of self-publishing this, but it never got beyond the first draft stage. The text below was scanned from the original document. I went through it to format for HTML and correct scanning errors. I made no attempt, however, to do a much needed editing for style, sentence structure, etc. This is a first draft, and I am sure it reads like one. Much of the information in it is now outdated, but I think there is still a lot of interesting background about the Honduran broadcasting scene.)


My Latin American experiences began in Honduras where I was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1982-84. During that time I was active in several DX publications and much of this article is taken from things I wrote for various issues of DX Monitor of the International Radio Club of America and Review of International Broadcasting.

I had thought about joining Peace Corps ever since junior high school when I read Living Poor an account of Peace Corps service by a volunteer in Ecuador. When I graduated college it only seemed natural that I apply. Through DXing and Spanish classes I had learned a lot about Latin America and now I wanted to see some of it.

Applying to Peace Corps is a very complicated process. The application form was a sixteen page booklet, they wanted eight references, plus I had to have a complete medical and dental checkup. Finally six months after I initially picked up the application I was offered positions in either Upper Volta or Oman. Sorry, I said, as I had put in my application, I really wanted a Spanish speaking country. Besides, I studied six years of Spanish. Didn't that count for something? Not long afterward I was offered Honduras, although I would not be going overseas for another four months, on January 3, 1982.

After a few days of workshops in Miami, which allowed the Peace Corps to weed out a few people that it didn't think were up to the challenge, our group of thirty-five trainees flew to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We spent the first night in the Hotel Granada, well known as the Peace Corps budget hotel in Tegucigalpa. The next morning, Sunday, we were farmed out to local families.

The first twelve weeks in country are training: language, cultural, and job specific. During this time each person lives with a different local family. The families speak no English, so it is a very rapid sink-or-swim in the local culture and language. Before being turned over we were all given an English/Spanish dictionary and taught that one very important phrase - "Donde esta el bano?" or "Where is the bathroom." As I had an extensive background in Spanish, my main problem was learning the local slang (certain family members were very obliging in that respect, as long as I didn't tell Grandma) and to adapt to the local accent. Some people in my training group knew no Spanish at all however, and found that one phrase very useful on day one with their families. I still think about those poor Honduran families who had to spend an entire Sunday with a dumb gringo wandering around their house saying "Donde esta el bano?"

I did very little DXing during the twelve weeks I lived in Tegus. Training was very intensive, and anyway I lived just twelve blocks from the center of the city and it was electrically very noisy.

Off to Santa Barbara

Training ended on April 2, 1982. My assignment was to work in nutrition and health projects in the normal school in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is a town of about 10,000 inhabitants and is the capital of the department of the same name. It is located about one hundred kilometers south of San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras. This translated into a three hour bus ride. The first forty kilometers of the trip was on the paved highway that ran on to Guatemala. Then it diverged south on a narrow dirt track that threaded its way around mountains, over rivers, and through streams (bridges? what bridges?), covering the passengers with great clouds of dust during much of the year. Later the Honduran government received a loan from the EEC (bless 'em) to pave the road. By the time I left it had been straightened and widened the entire length, and about a third of it had been paved. All the streams even had bridges! I laughed at the green PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) who complained how bad the road was and how it took two whole hours (!) to get from San Pedro Sula.

Mv work was with a normal school, something once very common in the US, but long since done away with. Many of today's teachers' colleges started out as normal schools, and the town of Normal, Illinois gets its name not from the personalities of its residents, but from what was once there. A normal school is a specialized senior high school that trains its students to be primary school teachers upon graduation, nor further degree being required. A poor country like Honduras has enough trouble supplying its classrooms with teachers, without requiring college degrees. My actual job was not to teach (although I did at times), but rather to help the three Honduran teachers who taught nutrition and health classes to develop better lessons and materials, i.e. I taught the teachers who taught the future teachers.

I initially lived in town with another older PCV in a "Peace Corps House", i.e. a house that PCVs had lived in for a number of years, new ones replacing departing ones. Santa Barbara was big enough to always have PCVs, and the owner loved it as he never had to look for new tenants. Later I lived by myself in the village of Galeras, about a mile outside of town.

DXing in Honduras

My DX shack, "the best little DX shack in Honduras," consisted of a modified FRG-7, a Realistic CTR-51 cassette recorder, and a Radio West ferrite loop antenna. Later a GE cassette recorder, a Sony ICF-7600A, and a homemade antenna tuner were added. The Sony was mainly used for travel. For outside antennas I had to adapt to the environment. My first home in town had only a very tiny backyard with a large palm tree in the middle. I was able to procure a twenty-five foot bamboo pole to which I coiled 150 feet of #22 copper wire around the top six feet. The entire thing was tied to the palm tree. I found it to be an excellent antenna, with only one problem. As a palm tree grows it adds a new frond to the top and every six weeks the bottom one breaks off, crashing to the ground. Every time this happened the frond homed in on my lead-in wire, and I would have to let down the pole to hook the antenna back up.

Later I moved to the village, living briefly in a two room house along the main road - a very noisy and dusty location. Then I moved to a one room apartment about two hundred feet away. It was so close that the most economical way to move my things was to hire two brothers and their oxcart to do it. This new location had an entire hillside for a backyard, so I experimented with several different randomwires in the year I lived there.

Shortwave reception was even more different than I had imagined. Central American stations were, obviously, like locals. Most of the tropical band stations could be heard all day long, some with good signals. Reception of the Andean region was excellent. However, Brazilian stations, as well as Africans, were very hard to hear. Honduras is closer to the equator, which means signals from areas like Indonesia and the USSR do not have to pass through polar regions. I never DXed the USSR much but enjoyed Indonesian reception I had never dreamed of in Pennsylvania. However the Indo season in Central America is from April to August with a peak in June, as I discovered.

It was always fun to write to SW stations while living in Honduras. How often does the Voice of Turkey, for example, receive a letter from Honduras? Three times from Pennsylvania I wrote them requesting a pennant and never got one. I wrote once from Santa Barbara and just five weeks later received a pennant and a package of magazines. A number of other stations were similarly generous.

I actually spent more of my time DXing MW than SW. In part it was necessitated by having to do my own research. Not long after arriving, I wrote in DX Monitor the "amount of effort needed to compile accurate listings in phenomenal. The WRTH info on Honduras is very spotty - no intention to criticize them, just not any good sources of local info for them." Eventually I did much of the 'legwork' in compiling a Central American station list for the IRCA, which was then used by the WRTH to update their records.

That may be the most accurate list available, as I don't know if the Honduran government is any better informed. I visited the local equivalent of the FCC several times and got to know the head of the licensing/allocation for all radio and TV stations in the country (excluding hams and utilities). For this important function he had one assistant, one secretary, and two offices. I tried in vain to get an official station list but was always turned down for security reasons. He was afraid I would take the list back to the USA and give it to broadcasting authorities there who would then proceed to raise powers on select frequencies to drown out Honduran stations. His fears, though paranoid, had some justification. For example, in Santa Barbara during the evening on 740 khz, KTRH in Houston was stronger than Radio Eco just sixty miles away in San Pedro Sula. Overall US stations seemed to cause more QRM to Honduran stations than did the Cubans, and just as much as the much closer Mexicans.

My MW DX was somewhat hampered by having two very over-modulated stations in town, although it did become better when I moved to Galeras. Still, some of the best times to DX was during local power blackouts, which were frequent. My local stations had no backup generators and would be off for the duration. Once while DXIng during a blackout I wrote, "I am DXing and writing this by candlelight. It is raining so hard I can barely hear the radio thru the headphones. The thunderstorm causes some static. Yet I sit here knowing there is no power in probably a twenty-five mile radius. No blenders, no television, no flourescent lights. Even with the thunderstorm, the band seems quiet."

Another prime time to DX was after ten pm when the locals went off the air for the night. In fact by midnight almost every station in Central America would be off the air. There were only three all night stations in Honduras, and only four in Guatemala. The band would fill up with all-nighters from the US, Mexico, and Colombia.

While living in Honduras, I picked up 622 stations in 34 countries on medium wave. I believe in another two years I would have had no problem in passing a thousand stations. My best countries were the USA (139), Honduras (95), Mexico (73), Guatemala (67), and Colombia (49). Some of my best MW DX was from the other side of the Atlantic. The southerly location which meant Trans-Atlantic signals did not pass through polar regions meant better TA possibilities. I caught nineteen Trans-Atlantic stations in ten European and two Middle-Eastern countries. A location on the Caribbean coast would have been even better.

La Voz del Junco

One of my two local stations was already known to DXers: La Voz del Junco. It broadcast on 1010 khz MW and 6075 khz SW. When I arrived the SW had been inactive for several years and remained that way until a few months before I left. That was fortunate as when it was on it completely blanketed my 49 meterband. I was only a quarter mile from their aerial, so it didn't matter if it was only one kilowatt.

Antonio Hasbun, station manager, founded the station in 1949. It was located in a one story building facing the main plaza. He also owned the town's only movie theater, an old school room with a wall painted white at one end and about two hundred chairs set up in a manner that would give a heart attack to an American fire safety inspector. In the theatre he showed mainly cheap horror movies and Mexican westerns. The closest he ever came to culture was Walt Disney's "Blackbeard's Ghost"and "Conan the Barbarian." But then, admission was only fifty cents.

Transmitters and antennas for Radio Junco were located outside town on a small hill in Galeras. Both one kilowatt transmitters (MW and SW) had been built by Antonio. The MW frequency used a tower, approximately one hundred feet tall, the highest structure in the area. The shortwave used a dipole.

Like several other Honduran stations, La Voz del Junco found a way to broadcast bilingual, in English and Spanish, - a true status symbol. In this case it was a program called The Star Show on the air every day for an hour at three PM (2100 GMT). Right after I arrived in town a Mormon missionary working there sat down in the studio with a DJ and together they recorded a number of bilingual promos and IDs. Every day these announcements were played, along with vocal music, to make the bilingual Star Show.

In September, 1982 Antonio's sister died. As an act of mourning Antonio basically closed down the radio station. It was initially off the air for a week, then slowly increased back to its regular schedule. He also limited the movie theater to two or three nights a week. I wonder why my local stations back in Pennsylvania never closed down like that.

The junco in the station name refers to a type of straw grown only around Santa Barbara, but well known throughout Central America. Very fine hats are woven from it and sold throughout the region. This is one of the two mainstays of the local economy. The other is coffee. The Santa Barbara area produces one-third of the Honduran coffee crop. During harvest season most of the streets in town become one lane wide as half the street gets blocked off and covered with drying coffee beans.

While in Latin America I helped other DXers obtain QSLs. In the case of La Voz del Junco I actually was the veri-signer. Shortly after moving to Santa Barbara I made arrangements with Antonio allowing me to take over verifying reports, then pass them on to him so that he could respond to them too. Antonio was not very good at responding, so at least this way the reports were verified. I received one followup from when the station had been active in the seventies. When Antonio reactivated the station in 1984 I was swamped with over a dozen reports. I ended up issuing seventeen QSLs: ten to US DXers, four to Guatemala, two to Japanese, and one to myself.

My other local station was Ondas del Ulua, or "waves of the Ulua." The name refers to the Ulua river which flows a mile west of town and drains about one third of Honduras. Originally the town was located on the banks of the river and every twenty years or so the river would flood and wash away the town. Finally in 1825, after over 250 years of this, someone got smart and had the town moved to its present location. Somebody ought to name a radio station after him.

Ondas del Ulua broadcast on 1140 khz, later changed to 1150 khz. When I moved to Santa Barbara, it had been on the air eleven years, but had yet to make it in the World Radio TV Handbook, attesting to problems in getting information from such remote areas. The station also announced 4770 khz at signoff, although they did not so much as have a crystal for the frequency, let alone a transmitter. However it was registered for future use, and perhaps someday Santa Barbara will have another shortwave station.


This article is copyright 1982-86 by Don Moore. This article 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.

Continue to Part Two

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