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By Don Moore

A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in the April, 1990 issue of Monitoring Times magazine.


If you haven't heard Ecuador by now, you haven't been trying. No one can miss those high-powered Voice of the Andes transmitters. Thanks to those missionaries-with-a-microphone, Ecuador is one of the first countries most shortwave hobbyists hear and verify.

But just a moment - what's that? Isn't there something peaking out from behind HCJB's curtain antennas? Yes, there's something back there, hidden by the immensity of those huge antennas. Could it be - yes, it is - dozens of small shortwave stations, just waiting to be logged!

The Country

Before we get to the radio stations, let's take a quick look at the countryside that's their home. Ecuador is a compact country. Its ten- and-a-half million inhabitants live in an area the size of Colorado. The people are about 40% Indian, 40% mestizo (mixed Indian-European), 10% European, and 10% African or Asian.

Since seasons don't change on the equator, altitude determines climate, which in turn determines a region's economy. Like Colombia to the north and Peru to the south, Ecuador is divided into three distinct regions. On the west is the costa, or Pacific coastal lowlands, where mainly Meztizo, Black, and Asiatic people live. Historically, this region was sparsely populated, due to intense tropical heat and humidity. But in modern times, people moved into the costa to take advantage of that same climate. Today, this is the region of big agricultural exports including bananas, coffee, and cocoa. Local shrimp farming has expanded to make Ecuador a leading exporter.

Going inland, we come the sierra, or Andes Mountains. Actually, the sierra is two mountain ranges running down the center of the country, separated by a number of high basins. The basins range from eight to ten thousand feet high, which lifts them above the tropical heat to a comfortable year-round spring-like climate. Most of the Indian population lives here, mainly producing foodstuffs for local consumption. Once a region of huge haciendas worked by poor Indian peasants, land reform is breaking the large farms into small family farms and cooperatives.

Ecuador's 30 volcanos are found in the sierra. Only three are active, including Cotopaxi, the world's highest active volcano. Most of the highest mountains are not topped with the fire and smoke, but rather the exact opposite - ice and snow. Although these mountains are almost on the equator, from which Ecuador gets its name, they are high enough to escape tropical heat.

Finally, east of the sierra is the oriente, the jungle lowlands flanking great rivers like the Napo and Pastaza, which eventually flow into an even greater river - the Amazon. Although this region is a full third of Ecuador's area, for centuries it was populated by little more than head-hunting Indians and a few brave missionaries. But in recent years, the Ecuadorian government has taken firm control over the region and mestizo farmers are rapidly moving in to carve homes out of the wilderness. This has been hastened by the discovery and exploitation of huge oil reserves in the northern oriente.

Compared to most third-world countries, Ecuador has a lot going for it. Most of the country is fertile, so Ecuador produces most of its own food, and agriculture forms a key part of its exports. Because Ecuador's agricultural production is varied, it is not as dependent on the ups and downs of international trade as are one-crop economies. Moreover, oil from the oriente means cheap gasoline locally, and added money for the national government. In recent years Ecuador has built an extensive network of paved roads linking all major towns. Good roads, combined with cheap gasoline and the country's small size, has given Ecuador one of the best and cheapest transportation systems on the continent, helping the country to industrialize.

The Stations

Broadcasting in Ecuador is a lot different from, say, broadcasting in Colombia, which is dominated by huge networks, or broadcasting in Peru, which in some parts of the country is still in its infancy. Two factors have influenced this. First, there's Ecuador's well populated compact size. Demographically, Ecuador can be seen as two large cities, Quito and Guayaquil, and a number of mid-sized provinical (state) capitals and other main towns closely surrounded by small villages. Secondly, there's Ecuador's stable, diversified economy and the prosperity it has brought.

Because of Ecuador's size, stations can be located in relatively few principal towns. Unlike Peru, even the most remote areas are close to a provincial capital. Because Ecuador has a well developed infrastructure including good transportation, cheap electrical power, and a strong commercial base, radio stations are generally better established, more prosperous, more powerful, and more professional. The negative side to this, from the DXers point of view, is that there is far less need to use shortwave. Many commercial stations get by fine without shortwave. Still, about a dozen of Ecuador's older and more important commercial broadcasters use shortwave to reach a national audience, and a few others use it to reach remote communities in the oriente.

There is, however, another sizable group of shortwave broadcasters in Ecuador - religious stations. The Catholic Church has a large network of stations throughout the country, many operated by the Franciscan Order. While some are aimed primarily at city dwellers, others broadcast to rural peasants, sometimes with programming in the Quichua Indian language. Most of the Catholic stations are affiliated with the liberal "Liberation Theology" wing of the Catholic Church which works to improve the lot of the peasants through education, so they can assume greater control over their lives.

Aside from HCJB, Protestant churches haven't been very active. Radio Rio Amazonas, which broadcasts in Spanish and Indian languages to the oriente region, is the only other Protestant station. A tribe of former headhunters who once killed a group of missionaries from HCJB is one of its prime target groups.

There is yet another religious station in Ecuador, and a very unique one at that. Ecuador is home to the only shortwave station in the world run by the Bahai faith. Called Radio Bahai, it is located in Otavalo, an Indian market town. Programs in Spanish and Quichua teach better health and sanitation practices and promote family togetherness.

Going After the DX

Ecuadorian stations are well heard in North America in both the morning and evening. In the winter they begin fading in around 2300 UTC on the East Coast, but come in best after 0100. In the morning they can be heard starting at sign-on, which vary from 0900 to 1100. Thanks to their relatively higher powers and the short skywave distance, many Ecuadorian shortwave outlets can be well heard even in the summer, although for fewer hours. The summer is, in fact, a good time to start DXing Ecuador. Knock off the easier ones now, then go after the harder ones in the real DX season.

Programming on Ecuadorian stations follows the pattern seen in much of the Andes. Generally big city stations have set formats, while small town stations broadcast in program blocks, with an hour of folk music followed by an hour of rock, which in turn may be followed by romantic music or even a soap opera. The first program of the day is usually a folk music wake-up program aimed at the "campesinos" or peasant farmers. Most DXers should be familiar with this music from HCJB. If not, HCJB has a weekly 15 minute program called "Musica del Ecuador" that is tailor-made for the potential DXer of Ecuador.

Generally, programming is in Spanish. Andean Indians of Ecuador are more likely to understand Spanish than those of Peru or Bolivia. However some religious stations have programs in Quechua. A few religious stations in the oriente, like Radio Rio Amazonas, broadcast in jungle tribal languages.

As elsewhere in Latin America, some Ecuadorian stations will turn off their shortwave transmitter for months or years at a time, then suddenly reappear again. Overall though, the Ecuadorian broadcasting scene is very stable. Hobbyists can get by with a single reference, such as the World Radio TV Handbook, or Passport to World Band Radio as usually only one or two new stations pop up a year. Still, keeping track of recent DX news will help you know which hard ones are being heard, and which inactive stations have turned their transmitters back on.

With a few exceptions, Ecuadorian stations are among the best verifiers in Latin America. Because the stations are more prosperous, staffs are larger, better paid, and more likely to have a little free time to answer mail. Several have their own QSL cards, and a few even send out pennants. Just be sure to write a good Spanish report, and include mint stamps or a US dollar bill to cover return postage.

1996 Note: The following frequency list is obviously several years out of date. Only some of the frequencies are still active. Several new stations are not listed. This list is included here mostly for historical and informational purposes.

3220 HCJB, La Voz de los Andes. What's this one doing here? I thought we said HCJB was easy. Well, this is the hard way to log HCJB, via a 10 Kw transmitter, with programs Quechua. This is one of the easier signals to hear on 90 meters, so when it's in well, go looking for the rare ones.

3240 Radio Antena Libre. As its name implies, "Radio Liberated Antenna" is a Catholic Liberation Theology station. It is one of the rarest logged Ecuadorians, but try for it evenings and mornings.

3270 Ecos del Oriente. Another rare one, this time from the oil region of the Oriente.

3280 La Voz del Napo. Another Catholic station, this is the best heard 90 meter Ecuadorian after HCJB. Its schedule is 1000-0300, although sign-off is occassionally later.

3286 La Voz del Rio Tarqui is one of the smallest and poorest stations in Cuenca. Usually heard with folk music.

3290 The newest Ecuadorian on the shortwave bands is Ambato's Radio Centro. It's not strong, but is frequently heard in the mornings.

3315 El Puyo's taxi-driver owned station, Radio Pastaza, is one of those on-again, off-again stations. Lately it's been "on", so look for it around 1000 sign-on or evenings to its 0400 sign-off.

3395 Santo Domingo's Radio Zaracay used to be much better heard, but a new directional antenna for the Galapagos Islands isn't sending much signal our way these days. Still, it is sometimes heard.

4680 Radio Nacional Espejo is another on-again, off-again station in the "on" mode. This is one of Quito's most popular folk music stations.

4795 La Voz de las Caras. Recently inactive, this is one of the few stations in the Ecuadorian coast. (20k jpeg photo)

4800 Cuenca's Radio Popular is one of the oldest SW stations in Ecuador. The best time to hear this one is during one of their occasional all-nighters. It's usually covered by Guatemala.

4820 Padre Enrique Pesantez's Radio Paz y Bien can frequently be heard in the morning, before the Honduran station comes on.

4840 If Venezuela's Radio Valera is off the air, you might get lucky and log Ecuador's Radio Interoceanica, but it will take a lot of trying.

4851 Southern Ecuador's Catholic radio voice is Radio Luz y Vida, or "Radio Light and Life" in Loja. This one is better heard in the morning.

4870 Radio Rio Amazonas, Ecuador's other Protestant missionary station, is usually well heard at sign-on, which can vary from 1000 to 1100. Programming is in local Indian languages, and sometimes features some very unique music.

4890 Radio Centinela del Sur is Loja's on-again, off-again station. In one of its prouder moments, this station relayed the Apollo Moon landing via the Voice of America.

4920 Look for Radio Quito here mornings and evenings. Most programming is news, sports, and other talk.

4960 Radio Federacion is the Catholic equivalent to Radio Rio Amazonas. It also broadcasts in Amazon Indian music and plays their unusual music. Try for it mornings, or early evenings. Sign-off is 0100.

5030 Radio Catolica Nacional is easy to hear when Costa Rican Radio Impacto isn't using this frequency.

5040 Another Catholic jungle station is La Voz del Upano, scheduled from 1100-0300.

5050 Radio Jesus del Gran Poder is run by Franciscan monks in downtown Quito. Usually easy around *1000 or 0100*. (27k jpeg photo of San Franisco Church/Monastery, where the station is located.)

5057 Loja's Radio Nacional Progreso is irregular, but strong when it's on. The morning folk music and ad program at 1000 is a good time to try.

7600 The Ecuadorian Navy operates HD2IOA, the local equivalent to WWV. Try for the time pips and Spanish time announcements during the evening.

This article is copyright 1990 by Don Moore.


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