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DOOR-TO-DOOR DXING
IN HCJB'S BACK YARD

By Don Moore

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

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It seems like every DXer specializes in different subfields of the hobby. Different ones prefer shortwave, medium wave, utilities . . . some even pursue particular geographic areas, or specific categories like religious stations. Perhaps the most colorful subfield of the radio hobby is door-to-door DXing. And just what is that? Traveling around from town to town, dropping in unexpectedly at local shortwave broadcasters. One never knows just what interesting facts will be learned, or what interesting people will be met.

In early 1985 my wife and I spent six weeks vagabonding in Ecuador, and I managed to pack in a lot of door-to-door DXing. I remember one hot and humid afternoon when we hopped off the bus in Quevedo, a small banana city on the coastal plain. After finding a cheap "fleabag" hotel, we went out in search of the local shortwave radio station. After a few blocks, we stopped at a small fruit stand for a glass of chilled pineapple juice, then went to sit in the park. Needing a shoeshine, Theresa called over one of the shoe shine boys, who brought along a dozen companions. Surrounded by curious boys between eight and fourteen years old and dressed in T-shirts, shorts, and sneakers, we fielded questions.

So many questions they asked us! Where were we from? Did we come on a plane? Is it cold in the US? Are there shoeshine boys in the US? They were surprised to hear that there weren't. Obviously if they were to become illegal immigrants they would have to find a new line of employment. Gradually the crowd around us grew as more children, and even a few adults joined the group. The boys taught us some local Spanish slang, and then asked us about some words in English. Sadly, these boys, like so many in Latin America, had formed an image of the US based on the cheap movies they saw. Excessive violence and easy sex with ever-changing partners were part of day-to-day life in the United States, as they saw it. As we said goodbye, I could only hope that we had given them another image of Americans.

Armed with simple instructions, we soon found our goal a few blocks down the street. A large wooden Ondas Quevedañas sign hung across the main street, with an arrow pointing up the adjoining side street. Around the corner and up three doors was an old neon station sign, which still listed the station's frequencies as 3308 and 635 khz, which hadn't been used since the 1960s. The huge double doors were open, so in we walked. When I explained to the secretary that I was a listener from the United States, she became very excited and, like her townsmen in the park, began asking us all sorts of questions. Moments later, the station's manager Maruja Jaramillo, joined us. She took us on a tour of their aged facilities.

Behind the offices was a small concrete-floored auditorium seating about a hundred on folding chairs. This was used for live programming, including open-mic talent shows every Sunday morning and evening. Beside the auditorium was a stairway leading up to the three studios. In addition to the main studio, where the DJ manned the console and spun his own disks, there was a separate studio for reading the news and a third studio for recording programs in advance. Also on the second floor was a plush carpeted conferance room, for about thirty persons, occasionally used to broadcast important local meetings.

Back downstairs we had another introduction to make. Station owner Humberto Alvarado had just arrived on his weekly visit from Guayaquil. At Don Humberto's instruction, Maruja took Theresa and I back upstairs and told the DJ to record an interview with us for later broadcast. He put an LP on the turntable to keep the listeners occupied, and plopped a cassette in the deck in the recording studio. For the third time in little more than an hour, we found ourselves fielding questions on the US and our visit to Ecuador. Being interviewed in Spanish for a radio broadcast wasn't quite so frightening since we had already rehearsed the answers to the questions twice!

Back downstairs again, Don Humberto asked us how the interview went, then invited us to spend the night in his Guayaquil home. "Sure!" we replied, hardly regretting the three dollars we had already spent on our ramshackle hotel. After picking up our luggage, Don Humberto drove to the town's outskirts to check on things at a luxurious secluded hotel that he owned. Besides giving us our only glimpse of a first-class Ecuadorian hotel, we were able to visit the neighboring Ondas Quevedanas transmitter site, planted amoung Don Humberto's grove of 2000 citrus trees.

Then we had a three hour joy ride to Guayaquil. Along the way our host frequently stopped at familiar roadstands to sample unusual fruits, delicious charcoal roasted beef, and frozen coconut milk popsicles. As we nibbled, he informed us that he also owned an FM station in Quevedo and a medium wave station, Radio Novedades, in Guayaquil. In addition he was a professor of journalism at the University of Guayaquil and vice president of the Ecuadorian Press Federation.

He lived with his wife, six sons, and a daughter in a spacious and beautiful apartment in downtown Guayaquil. The youngest child has just graduated from high school, but all the children still lived at home. We talked with family members, had a typically late (9pm) supper, and then Don Humberto and his wife Daisy took us on a late night drive through Guayaquil. A daytime tour of very modern and beautiful Guayaquil was taken the next morning. Daisy's press credentials were used to get us a tour of a banana boat. A lawyer and a painter, Daisy also took us to a gallery displaying some of her works.

Lunch at 2 pm was typically Ecuadorian. Besides delicious local food, another differance in eating with the Alvarado family was that they employed two young servant girls. As soon as a salad was finished, it was replaced by a bowl of soup. When the soup was gone, the bowl was whisked away in exchange for the main course, in turn replaced by desert. Middle class Americans, we were not used to this kind of service in private homes! After lunch we said goodbye to this wonderful family. Don Humberto drove us to the bus station and bought our tickets to Quito.

RADIO QUITO

Ecuador's capital city is a door-to-door DXers dream. There are nearly a dozen shortwave stations to visit. I was especially interested in visiting Radio Quito, as a good example of a large commercial station in Ecuador. The station is owned by El Comercio, Ecuador's most important newspaper and is located in the newspaper's office building, just a half block from the main plaza in downtown Quito. Soon I was knocking on station Vice President Jose Almeida's door. Pleased to have a surprise visit to relieve the day's monotony, Señor Almeida graciously took me on a tour of the facilities. Radio Quito's spacious offices and modern studios occupy the building's entire fourth floor. He explained that this gives the engineers easy access to the rooftop FM and UHF antennas which relay programming to the main AM and SW antennas high on Mount Pichincha, overlooking Quito. Befitting the station's ownership, thirteen out of nineteen daily programming hours are devoted to news and sports. In fact, Radio Quito is Ecuador's primary news station. Still, it is not a big station, and only employs about 25 people.

Radio Quito began transmissions in April, 1940, making it one of the first stations to air in Ecuador. Five months later, on August 18, 1940, it was officially inaugurated in a ceremony conducted by then- president Julio E. Moreno. On July 20, 1941, Radio Quito became the first station in Ecuador to retransmit a broadcast from the US when it picked up the world championship boxing match between Joe Louis and Chilean challenger Arturo Godoy. During this event loudspeakers were hooked up in one of the plazas so even those without radios could listen. During these early years, Radio Quito was affiliated with CBS in the US and also carried some BBC programming.

For the DXer, Radio Quito is one of the more easily heard of Ecuador's small broadcasters. It's also the country's best verifier, after HCJB. Every reception report is verified with a folding multi- lingual QSL card, a small pennant, and a sticker. They even accept reception reports in English, French and Italian, as well as Spanish (although I still recommend using Spanish). Word of Radio Quito's generosity has gotten around. The station receives around twenty reception reports weekly - an amazing number for such a small broadcaster. But they appreciate every report. After being verified, each one is neatly placed in a three ring binder, and placed in a cabinet.

RADIO PASTAZA

A few days later, Theresa & I had made our way to El Puyo, the center of development of Ecuador's Amazon frontier. El Puyo is a sizable town, almost a small city, but still very rough and wild, like the frontier town it is. The downtown is a collection of mud streets and hastily constructed rough-hewn wooden buildings painted in bright colors. Tropical music blares from the doorways of numerous cantinas. El Puyo is home to a very different example of an Ecuadorian commercial station, Radio Pastaza.

I still remember climbing up Radio Pastaza's narrow staircase to the third floor of a rare cement block building on El Puyo's main street. At the top of the stairs was a small waiting room with a few benches, which led into a sparse office mainly decorated by cheesecake and record promotion posters. Two small rooms opening onto the office served as record library and the station's only studio. Only two announcers were present, one spinning discs, the other doing paperwork. The DJ on duty quickly put an LP on the turntable so he could talk to the visiting gringo without interruption. The main thing on their minds was whether sex in the United States was as easy as movies portray it!!

After we got around their main topic of interest, the two announcers explained that Radio Pastaza is the main commercial broadcaster in the province. It's competition is two other commercial stations and the protestant missionary station Radio Rio Amazonas. Radio Pastaza, they told me, is one of the few radio stations in Ecuador owned by a trade union, in this case, the El Puyo taxi-drivers' union. The union president doubles as station manager, which is why he wasn't in the office. He was out driving his taxi around the muddy streets, honking his horn in the eternal search for passengers. The announcers were kind enough to type me a QSL letter, so I had no complaints.

On shortwave, Radio Pastaza is one of those on-again, off-again Latin American broadcasters that unpredictably go off the air for months or more at a time, to return again just as unpredictably. After a lengthy inactive period, the station reactivated yet again in the fall of 1989. Unfortunately Radio Pastaza is not a very reliable verifier, QSLs being as irregular as the broadcasts. Perhaps the double duty that many of the staff members have as taxi drivers accounts for this irregularity.

RADIO PAZ Y BIEN

From Puyo we traveled to Ambato. Almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1948, the colonial character of this city of nearly 100,000 was wiped out. It was rebuilt as a modern city with many shops, bakeries, and banks. An annual Fruit and Flower Festival, held the weekend before Lent, however, made our several day visit worthwhile. City schools filled with fruit and flower exhibits, flower draped balconies, parades of people in gay costumes, Ecuadorian folk music concerts and street dances completed the scene.

Ambato is home to Radio Paz y Bien (Radio Peace and Good), a common station in the mornings on 4820 khz with its Ecuadorian folk music. I was especially interested in meeting Padre Enrique Pesantez, who had signed my 1974 verification letter. When Theresa and I arrived, the Padre was out, but Rosa, who seemed to double as announcer and secretary, showed us around. It is a very modern station, with new equipment purchased in 1980. There are seperate studios for the fully automated FM service and MW/SW service, both independently programmed. Yet, the station only employed six people!

Rosa gave us a good description of station programming. Ecuadorian music is on at various times throughout the day, including the 1000 UTC sign-on. Several prayers are scheduled, and the Rosary is read three times daily. Every morning from 8:30-9:00 the Padre presents "La Hora del Hogar" (the home hour) where he chats on various themes related to the family. At many spots on the schedule there is an hour or half hour of "Pensamiento", or "thought" where instrumental music is played, occasionally interupted by the announcer reading short thoughts for the day, such as "It is not only lazy to do nothing, but you could do something better and don't" or "It is impossible to conceive what God is capable of doing with a soul, so leave the work to God."

We had just finished discussing the programming when Padre Enrique Pesantez walked in. We took to him immediately. When I mentioned I still had the letter he had written to me in 1974, he uttered a long drawn out "Caramba!" He peppers his conversation with "caramba!" and "puchica!", sort of Spanish equivalents of "wow!" and "how 'bout that!". Here was an enthusiastic man, full of life and joy which he spreads to those in his presence, smiles popping up all around. Pure energy glowed from his short, medium built body.

Ecuadorian by birth and a priest of the Franciscan order, he founded the station on June 12, 1952. It is his life. "Because many people do not come to church, we have to go to them via radio," he says. The station's objectives are faith and culture - propagating the Christian faith and the Ecuadorian culture.

He went to his office and brought out two reception reports, one each from Australia and New Zealand. "They write about the station! Caramba! People all over the world write me! They send all kinds of things, cassettes of the station." He knows no English, nor does anyone at the station, so he asked us to translate the reports, which were written in English. Going through the program details, he noted, "the morning program, they heard the morning program."

Then into his office where he hunted among piles of books and papers, finally coming up with the prize - the two most recent cassettes, one from Italy and one from Sweden. The Padre gets a kick out all this. Not only does the station minister to the local community, but Radio Paz y Bien sends Ambato and Ecuador to the world and brings the whole world back again. He has a stack of verification cards to send to those wonderful people all over the world who wrote him.

I asked him if I could take a picture of him by the sign over the front door. "Caramba!" he exclaimed, straightening up. He hurried around the station to who knows what purpose, save to tell those present that he was getting his picture taken. Below the sign he stood, full of pride, as I snapped two pictures. "Come on in," he shouted, "Let's take one of the studio." Bustling around the somewhat confused young man in the MW/SW studio, he cleaned off the console for the picture, then stepped aside as it was taken. "Now the FM studio," and he hurried to get Rosa and Juanita, another young female employee of the station, in the picture. The women cleared off a knitting project one had left on the FM console and giddily posed for the picture. "Caramba!"

We should have been sad to say goodbye to Radio Pay y Bien, but in the company of such a man as Padre Enrique, it is impossible to be sad for a moment. It was a gem of a station visit, but then the Padre is a gem among men. Door-to-door DXing is always adventurous, always fun, always new. And, in the end, it always seems to be the people at each station, like Padre Enrique, that make each visit unique, worthwhile, and rememberable.


1996 Addendum: I guess the fact that only one of these four stations is still on shortwave says something about the unpredictability of Latin American shortwave! Radio Quito is currently an easy catch on 4920 in both the evenings and mornings. I have heard that they are in a new location. It is unlikely that any of the other stations will return to shortwave. Father Enrique Pesantez is no longer at Radio Paz y Bien. He may have retired.

2004 Addendum: Radio Quito has been off shortwave for several years now.

This article is copyright 1990 by Don Moore.

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