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DXing the Land of
Crazy Geography

by Don Moore

A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in the April, 1994 issue of Monitoring Times magazine.


In 1985 while traveling through South America, my wife and I crossed into Chile at the northernmost city of Arica, and as usual, one of our first stops was the local national tourism office. On one wall of the office was a long narrow poster with a cartoon map of Chile showing the different regions ranging from the desert of the north, the fertile valleys in the north-center, Alpine lakes and mountains of the south-center, and thick forests and glaciers of the south. The caption at the bottom read, Chile - Geografia Loca, or "Chile - Crazy Geography." What better way to describe a country that is 2600 miles long, but averages only 100 miles wide?


Since independence, Chile has been one of the most stable and progressive countries in Latin American. Democratically elected governments have been the norm in Chile and an influx of European immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s helped produce a strong middle class and futher the country's economic development. Today Chile is the only Latin American country classified as developed, according to United Nations statistics.

Befitting Chile's advanced position in Latin America, in the early 1920s Chile became one of the first Latin American countries with radio broadcasting. The Chilean congress even briefly considered setting up a BBC-like public broadcasting monopoly before deciding to follow the U.S. model of private broadcasting. Chile's strong economy and democratic traditions led to the establishment of a solid radio broadcasting industry. By the 1960s, several Chilean universities offered majors in broadcasting and journalism and Chile's mass-media education was considered a model for Latin America.


Chilean politics took a fateful turn in 1970 when Socialist candidate Salvador Allende became president with a plurality of barely a third of the vote. Allende's Socialists had needed the support of Chile's small Communist Party for the crucial margin of victory and the two parties formed a unified governing front. With Allende's victory, all aspects of politics and life became highly polarized between Allende's left on one side, and the centrist Christian Democrats and the Conservative Party on the other. The situation was made worse by the CIA, which in its determination to make Allende fall played such dirty tricks as bribing union officials to arrange strikes and pumping the country with counterfeit currency to destablize the economy.

In 1971, Allende nationalized the country's major industries. This, combined with the general economic problems caused advertising revenues to bottom out at commercial radio stations across the country. Many failed and were sold; others sold part- ownership to avoid total bankruptcy. However, the only groups interested in buying stations in these economically troubled times were the political parties. The Socialists picked up 33, the Christian Democrats 29, and the Communists 28. Other stations that remained in private hands likewise took political stances. Soon only ten of Chile's 156 stations were politically neutral and objective. Forty-four percent supported Allende and fifty percent supported the opposition. Supporters of each side harassed stations on the other by means such as cutting power lines.

During this period Chilean stations gave DXers a taste of Chile's political discord. Socialist station Radio Corporacion was an easy catch on 15150 kHz. Stations in 31 meters included Christian Democrat Radio President Balmaceda, 9590 kHz; and Socialist Radio Portales, 9570 kHz. Radio Mineria, still in private hands, was a voice of the Conservative party on 9750.

All through Allende's rule, starting before he had even taken office, there had been rumors that the military would take over. There had even been several small abortive uprisings by tiny groups in the military. However, on September 11, 1973, the military moved as a cohesive whole to take over the country quickly and completely. The coup began in the early morning and by time Allende realized what was happening and hastily tried to speak to the country over radio, only the Communist Party's main station Radio Magallanes (1010 kHz MW) was on the air to broadcast his final speech. The army had closed down every other station in Santiago. Magallanes fought back for several hours before it, too, was silenced. Fighting was intense in some places and Air Force planes were brought in to strafe and bomb the presidential palace. In early afternoon, as troops were storming the building in a final assault, Allende killed himself with his submachine gun.

Peaceful, democratic Chile had become the site of one of the bloodiest coups in Latin American history. Thousands of Chileans were killed in the fighting, and thousands more executed in massive death-sqaud detention camps in the days that followed. Many Allende supporters crowded into foreign embassies for safety and were eventually allowed to leave the country. Former staff members of Radio Magallanes moved to Moscow where they were given transmitter time for a special Radio Magallanes broadcast to Chile.


The new military dictatorship had a shortwave voice on 6150 by afternoon of the coup day. Within a few days most of the former Chilean SW stations had returned to the air, but there had been a lot of changes in programming. For example, at one point former Socialist Radio Corporacion was noted relaying arch-conservative Radio Mineria. Many stations, however, were carrying a broadcast for foreign audiences called "Chile en el Mundo" (Chile in the World) explaining the reasons for the coup.

As it turned out, the generals had serious plans for international broadcasting and the means to do it with. Just weeks before the coup, the USSR had shipped several 100 kW SW transmitters to Chile for a new Chilean external service. Allende never got to use them, but the dictatorship's La Voz de Chile was soon broadcasting in seven languages. Ironically, Moscow's gift transmitters were also used to jam Spanish broadcasts from Radio Moscow and other East European stations, as well as Moscow's Radio Magallanes relays. At one point the generals even jammed Radio Sweden's Spanish broadcasts, finding the station too liberal for their liking.

Fortunately few radio stations make DXers wait as long for a QSL card as La Voz de Chile did. For several years the station answered almost none of their mail until 1979 they started cleaning out the files all at once. Some DXers received QSLs for reports that had been sent four or more years previously! But, the international service was not long to be.

The military government had become enamored with economic theories espoused by economists at the University of Chicago and turned control of the Chilean economy over to them. But the theories didn't work so well in real life, and soon the Chilean economy hit rock bottom and the economists were kicked out of the country. One of the casualties of the economic downturn was the international service, which closed in 1980. The so-called "Chicago Boys" have not been forgotten, however, as today Chileans tell University of Chicago economist jokes much the way people in North America tell ethnic jokes!

Perhaps because Chile had long been a stable and democratic country, few anticipated the strong dictatorship that followed Allende. Even most supporters of the coup expected the military to hold power only a few months and then hold elections, excluding the leftists. Few expected sixteen years of military rule. Finally, in December, 1989, as freedom was returning to Eastern Europe, freedom also returned to Chile in the form of the first free elections since the coup. Tired of military rule, the Socialists, Christian Democrats, and most of the liberal and moderate opposition united under a moderate Christian Democratic candidate to defeat the conservative candidate sponsored by the military government. That brings us up to today's free and prosperous Chile, so let's take a look and Chile and its present- day shortwave stations region by region.


The northern third of Chile is the mineral-rich but bone-dry Atacama desert. It has a number of port cities and one main inland one, Calama, near the Chuquimata copper mine, which is the largest man-made hole in the world. How dry is the Atacama? In Calama we asked a teenage girl if it had ever rained there. She thought for a few moments and then wittilly replied, "Yes ... I think about the year 1500." In fact, in many parts of the Atacama no rain has been recorded since the arrival of the Spanish over 400 years ago, and geographical evidence indicates that there has been no rain for an even longer period. But, the Andes mountains with snow covered peaks and clear mountain lakes and streams are never more than 75 miles away, and the cities of the Atacama have water piped in from the mountains.

The Atacama's endless drought, however, has made the region an archaelogist's paradise. Nothing left in the desert decays; it just dehydrates. The mountain Indians knew this and came down to the desert to bury their dead who were naturally mummified. This was thousands of years before the Egyptians discovered mummification and the Atacama Indian bodies are much better preserved. The garbage and food waste the Indians left around the grave sites makes them even richer in historical importance. Near Calama is a world reknown archaeolgy museum filled with items from these ancient grave sites, including 11,000 year-old dehydrated human feces!

In Calama is a rarely heard shortwaver, Radio Calama on 6100 kHz. Through the late 1980s, SW was being used on Sundays only; it may or may not be still active. We arrived in Calama on the Wednesday morning preceding Easter, 1985. In the late afternoon I stopped by the station for a visit, but it was about to close down for the long holiday weekend so that the staff could all take a vacation to the coast. Everyone was busy trying to finish work by 6:00, and no one wanted to take time to talk to the gringo. I returned to my hotel and tuned them in on MW. Sure enough, at 6:00 they signed off with a promise to return at 6:00 pm on Sunday night. They remained off the air the next three days until Sunday evening when they came back at 6:00 p.m. sharp. Unfortunately, we were leaving town early the next morning so I couldn't stop by for another visit. Now, if we could only get U.S. AM stations to take staff vacations like that . . . think of how great MW DXing would be with the local stations off for three days!


The heart of Chile is the Central Valley centering on Santiago, the capital. It is a land of major industrial cities such as Concepcion, Santiago, and Valpariso and vast fruit and vegetable farms. The Central Valley is also rich in minerals, and the Rancagua copper mine is the world's largest underground mine. Between Chuquicamata and Rancagua, every DXer's antenna system must contain some Chilean copper!

Chile's Central Valley is one of the world's major fruit growing regions and my wife and I were fortunate to be there during April, the southern hemisphere fall, as grapes and apples were abundant; countless varieties of both were available for around seven cents a pound. Somedays we would lunch in the park on rolls and three or four pounds of grapes. Cherries are said to be equally available in January. In fact, much of the fresh fruit in North American supermarkets in late winter and spring comes from Chile. North American fruit growers have worked with their Chilean counterparts so that each take their seasonal turns at supplying the big U.S. consumer market. Unfortunately, the corporte leaders that decide what Americans eat feel that Americans should have the same varieties of fruit year round. So, rather than importing interesting Chilean types of grapes, apples, plums, etc, American ones have been introduced to Chilean fruit exporters. Having tasted Chile's own fruits, I can only say this standardization is a loss to the American palate.

With all those grapes, Chile is one of the world's top five wine exporting countries, and the largest one outside Europe. And, Chilean wines are good - at many "blind" competitions with wine experts, Chilean wines have beaten French, Italian, and German ones. Chileans claim that some of their wine is so good that the French import it and then rebottle it as French wine!


Most of the stations of the Allende era are gone, although there is always hope that one of them might pull their shortwave transmitter out of mothballs someday. It is perhaps appropriate that the two most logged private Chilean stations today are named after the two mainstays on the Chilean economy, agriculture and mines. Radio Agricultura, 9630, has affiliates in other parts of the country and focuses on news and programming of interest to Chile's farming community. Radio Mineria, the former conservative station on 9750, however, only takes its name from Chile's mining interests. The station has taken a more moderate role since Allende's fall, and is today one of Chile's better sources of news. Santiago's other shortwave station is Radio Nacional, which has continued to use the government's 100 kW shortwave transmitters of 15140 and 9550 kHz. All three of these stations are only irregularly active, so keeping current on DX news in necessary to catch them during a period of activity.

If you hear either Radio Nacional or Radio Agricultura, however, don't send your reception reports to the stations. Instead send them to Carlos Toledo Verdugo at Casilla 296, San Fernando, VI Region, Chile. Carlos is the best known DXer in Chile and a collaborator with the WRTH, and these two stations have appointed him their official QSL secretary to make sure that QSLing gets done right. A school teacher, Carlos once spent six months on an educational exchange program in Ashland, Wisconsin, so English reports are fine. However, be sure to include two IRCs or one U.S. dollar for return postage.

Carlos also runs the shortwave listening interest group in FEDERACHI, the Chilean association of radio amateurs. FEDERACHI has been very supportive in promoting shortwave listening around Chile, and the interest group has members throughout the country. In fact, FEDERACHI could serve as a role model for other radio amateur organizations around the world as to how to seriously treat shortwave listening.

About 400 miles south of Santiago is Temuco, in the heart of what once was the Mapuche, or Araucanian, Indian empire. When the Spanish attempted to conquer this part of Chile, the Araucanians fought back hard. At one point they wiped out an entire settlement, including Chile's Spanish founder, Pedro de Valdivia. The Spanish learned to give the Araucanians a wide berth, and there was hole in their settlement between the cities of Concepcion and Valdivia where the Indians lived. This pattern of co-existence continued until the 1870s when a French adventurer gained acceptance among the Araucanians and made himself their king. There was talk that France might make the region a protectorate, so Chile raised a massive army and marched in to subdue the Araucanians once and for all.

Today, Temuco is home to Chile's newest shortwave broadcaster, Evangelical station Radio Esperanza on 6088 kHz. Radio Esperanza is sometimes on the air 24 hours, especially weekends, so the early morning around 0700-0900 is a good time to check for this station. They have been widely heard despite using only 500 watts, and a new 6000 watt transmitter to have been installed in early 1993 should make reception even easier. Station director American Ray Woerner has been a missionary in Chile for over thirty years, so English reports are fine on this one, too!

Between Temuco and Puerto Montt is Chile's lake country, a playground of deep blue lakes, clear mountain streams, pine forests, and snow topped mountains. This region is sometimes called Chile's Switzerland, and is an outdoor lover's paradise. Tourists from within Chile and dozens of foreign countries go here for fishing, skiing, hiking, camping, and just enjoying Mother Nature. It is truly one of the more beautiful areas on earth. While Santiago is as far south as Atlanta is north, Puerto Montt is the southerly equivalent of Cleveland. Although the nearby ocean does moderate things a bit central Chile has all four seasons, including winter. We don't often think of snow storms hitting South American cities, but much of Chile is that far south. Even Santiago gets snow on occasion.


The southern third of Chile, below Puerto Montt, is a sparsely populated archipelago of thickly forested islands, treacherous glacier-covered mountains, and deep coastal fjords, similar to the Norwegian coast or the Alaskan panhandle. There are two main population centers in this region. One is Punta Arenas on the Straits of Magellan, the southernmost city of 100,000 or more population in the world. The other, further north, is Coyhaique and its port of Puerto Aysen. In a region as remote as this, one would expect to find shortwave, and indeed, Coyhaique has two shortwave stations, Radio Patagonia Chilena on 6080, and Radio Santa Maria on 6030. Of course, small stations on 49 meters are always at the mercy of larger power stations, and while there have been times when these stations were in the open and easily received in North America, more often they are blocked by international broadcasters. But every once in a while as the big broadcasters shift their schedules, an open window on one of the frequencies will appear in the early morning around 1000 and the station will be heard for a few months.

In the cold wind-swept mountains of southern Chile, just a stone's throw from Antartica, we come to the end of our radio journey. With its interesting culture and strong economy, Chile should remain a DX target for years to come, from one end of its crazy geography to the other!

1996 Addendum: The only Chilean station which I have seen reported in the past year is Radio Esperanza.


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

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