WBCQ "The Planet" operates out of Monticello, Maine, on various shortwave frequencies to a worldwide audience. It is run by a dedicated team of radio enthusiasts for the benefit of the listeners. One of the leading figures behind WBCQ is Al Weiner who worked for Radio Caroline on the Ross Revenge in 1985 and later went on to start his own offshore station Radio New York International (RNYI) from the M.V. Sarah in 1987.

In early August 2003 I had the pleasure to visit the transmitter site of WBCQ and meet the guys and girls there, along with a good friend from Rhode Island. Monticello, Maine is pretty much a long way from anywhere. It's at least a six hour drive North of Boston on I95, and then 15 miles further on Route 1 when I95 crosses into Canada. The town is close enough to the border that my phone went for a roam whilst I was on site, and I received a text message from Rodgers Network, welcoming me to Canada!

Above: The main entrance to WBCQ - not quite the same as the average BBC or VOA Short Wave station! The main transmitter room is the garage on the left of the picture with the roller door.

A view of the transmitter buildings from across the antenna field.

Currently, as of August 2003 WBCQ transmitts on four different frequencies, 17495, 9330, 7415 and 5105. For full details of the times and schedules for each frequency see the official WBCQ website. 7415 is a full carrier double sideband conventional AM signal, while the others use a variety of reduced carrier single sideband operation. A "variety" of transmitters and antenna systems are used to broadcast these frequencies.

An early 70's Harris MW-50A Pulse-Duration-Modulation transmitter (shown above) modified for shortwave use (SW-50A!) provides the original 7415 frequency. A "Class D" switching tube in series with the HT to the RF output tube is pulse width modulated with the audio signal at a frequency of approx 70Khz. The output of the tube, being a high voltage pulsed squarewave is then fed through a high powered low-pass filter to remove the 70Khz components and reconstruct the audio along with a DC component to supply the PA plate system.

The 9330 frequency is generated by a beautiful old Collins broadcast set, seen above from both sides, suitably modified for shortwave and reduced carrier use. This sits alongside the Haris MW50. Below we see the RF output balanced line from the Collins. Spot the fluroescent tube floating in mid-air to act as on "on air" indicator lamp!

Opposite the Collins as seen below is a "TimTronic" SW50 transmitter, handbuilt by one of the WBCQ engineers from various pieces of surplus military hardware! This set operates on the 17495 channel and the output is also through a pair of open wire lines. These run just a few feet above your head when you stand between the Collins and Timtronic boxes so make sure you don't reach up with your hands!!

These three transmitter are all located in the garage shown in the opening photograph - it's not very many garages which can claim to have three installed and working 50kw transmitters!

The latest frequency to be added to WBCQ is 5105 which went live in mid July 2003, and it is on this channel that the one hour daily programme recorded by Radio Caroilne can be heard. This programme goes out at 18:00-19:00 Eastern Time Monday to Friday. The transmitter for this service is located in a different building, and again is a collection of various pieces of surplus military hardware. The linear power amplifier cabinet is on the left of the above picture, on the right is the SSB exciter rack and frequency sources. The RF driver cabinet was to the right of the exciter.

Here I am standing in front of one of the RF balanced lines connecting to the antenna field. That was close enough for my liking!

Above we see some of the antennas used for WBCQ. In the centre is the beam used for 9330 and 17495, this is directed down the eastern seaboard of the USA and into the Carribean and South America. On the left and right sides we see the new stacked and phased dipoles used for the latest 5105 frequency. This is also directed along the Eastern seaboard, but being bi-directional throws half of its power backwards towards Europe. Within days of it being switched on many reports had been received from Europe. Getting all the parts of the matching-phasing harness aligned whilst suspended from the two 90 foot towers must have been quite an accomplishment, though I'm not sure if the aluminium ladder performs an active role as a matching stub or not! A large Rhombic antenna for 7415 runs round the field, supported by wooden telegraph poles - this was rather difficult to photograph.
7415 can be a bit difficult to catch in Europe as not only is the signal beamed towards the Carribean, but the same frequency is used by VOA in Africa and All India Radio on 7410 cause a lot of splatter. However, in late August 2003 I have on several occasions successfully heard WBCQ on 7415 in the early hours with an S7+ signal, alongside weaker signals on 5105 and 9330 (though this seems to contradict the theoretical antenna patterns). 17495 provides a steady but weak signal in the mid-evenings in Europe so keep your ears peeled if you are a keen DX'er on this side of the pond.

Here we see a couple of the stations extensive range of vehicles, with some personalised licence plates.

As well as the four shortwave frequencies, the same site is also used for WREM on 710 AM, a local station for Monticello. This operates at 5000 watts into a 400 foot tower as seen above. Power for this service is from a lovely old RCA BTA-5F, shown below, in an adjacent building.

Perhaps one of the most amazing things about this site is the lack of available three-phase power. All four short wave transmitters and the 710 AM have been modified to run from single phase. There must be a lot of amps flowing on the incoming supply. Another unusual aspect is the amount of surplus gear the guys have collected, everything from old school buses filled with racks of defunct equipment to military command vehicles complete with rooftop mounted radar scanners are stored all over the site. It really is an Aladdins cave of old gear.

My sincere thanks to the guys at WBCQ for allowing us to visit and take the pictures, and to Duffy for all the driving!

Enjoyed the tour? My E-mail address is :

ship [at] rossrevenge [dot] co [dot] uk

-Sorry, but I have to find ways of stopping spam mail these days.

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