Don Moore’s Photo Album: Cuenca, Ecuador (Part One)
by Don Moore
For me travel is all about seeing new places and having new experiences. When I retired in 2017 my plan was to spend the next fifteen years visiting new countries and new places in countries I already knew. Is that a viable goal? Three years ago while crossing the border from Ecuador to Colombia I shared a taxi with Dutch man who, like me, was traveling overland by bus with just a knapsack and a suitcase. And two weeks earlier he had celebrated his eightieth birthday. I don’t remember his name but he’s my hero.
The pandemic put a pause on travel but I’m happy to be back on the road. I’m currently in Ecuador, the country where I’ve spent more time than anywhere except the United States and Honduras. After landing in Quito at the beginning of December I visited four provinces I hadn’t been to before, including spending three nights at the bohemian beach town of Montañita where I had some good DX. I like seeing new places but there is also something to be said for returning to a familiar place that holds a special meaning. For me that place is where I am now – Cuenca, Ecuador.
My ex-wife and I finished our Peace Corps service in 1984, flew home to get married, and then in January 1985 flew to Quito, Ecuador to begin a long journey that would take us overland all the way to Buenos Aires and back. On our way to Peru in late February we stopped for a few days in Cuenca and fell in love with the little city. We visited Cuenca again in July at the end of our travels. When we left I knew we would be back but I never could have imagined the circumstances that would lead to that next visit. In 1997 we returned with our seven-year-old daughter to adopt a six-year-old son. We spent almost three weeks in Cuenca doing all the required paperwork but we had no complaints as we enjoyed being there so much. I clearly remember sitting in a park one day and commenting that Cuenca would be a perfect place to retire in someday. I was only ten years ahead of my time.
La Voz del Río Tarqui
Cuenca was home to several shortwave broadcasters over the decades but La Voz del Río Tarqui was probably the best known to my generation of DXers. The station was founded in 1960 by Manuel Pulla but didn’t begin its shortwave service on 3285 kHz until 1982. My loggings of the station run from July 1982 through 1997 but I believe they were on shortwave for a few more years after that. (Don’t confuse La Voz del Río Tarqui with Radio Tarqui, a sometimes broadcaster from Quito on 4970 kHz.)
La Voz del Río Tarqui in 1985. The facilities inside were no more impressive than the outside of the building was.
La Voz del Río Tarqui takes its name from the famous Battle of the River Tarqui. After the new countries of South America gained their independence from Spain there was often disagreement over just where the boundaries were that they had inherited from Spanish rule. Ecuador was in a union with present-day Colombia and Venezuela until 1830 and during this time Peru claimed much of present-day southern Ecuador, including Cuenca and Guayaquil. In 1828 a large Peruvian army occupied Loja, to the south, and a few months later marched north to complete their conquest. In February 1829 General Antonio de Sucre, a hero of the war of independence, met the Peruvians on the banks of the Tarqui, twenty-five kilometers south of Cuenca. Both sides suffered heavy losses but Sucre’s army routed the Peruvians. Cuenca, Guayaquil, and Loja remained a part of Ecuador. Continue reading →
After finishing Peace Corps, my ex-wife and I spent six months traveling around South America in 1985. In mid-June we crossed the border to southern Bolivia from Argentina and took an overnight train to the mining center of Oruro. We also visited Cochabamba and the capital of La Paz before heading to Peru ten days later. We would have stayed longer but 1985 was the worst year ever for Bolivia’s typically unstable economy and the country was being wracked by labor strikes and food shortages. But I did manage to visit about a dozen Bolivian shortwave stations.
La Cruz del Sur was founded in 1949 by Canadian missionary Sydney H. Hillyer and the Canadian Baptist Mission. It broadcast on 4875 kHz shortwave for many years. My last log of it was in 2003.
I first set foot in Latin America in January 1982 when I arrived in Tegucigalpa to begin three months of Peace Corps training. Three months later I moved to my Honduran home, the town of Santa Bárbara in the western mountains. For the next two years I worked as a teacher and resource person at the Escuela Normal Mixta de Santa Bárbara, a specialized high school that trained its students to teach primary school.
Santa Bárbara had a shortwave station, La Voz del Junco on 6075 kHz but it was rarely reported because it broadcast irregularly and was usually blocked by big international broadcasters when it was on the air. I had never heard it but I met Miguel Hasbun, the owner-manager, on my first visit to Santa Bárbara when he picked me up hitchhiking north of town. He told me that the shortwave transmitter had been broken down for a while but that he was going to fix it ‘soon’. Over the next year I kept inquiring about the shortwave and he finally did fix it. After that the station broadcast irregularly for the next year or so, mostly in the morning. I served as volunteer veri-signer and issued around fifteen QSLs. I even issued one to myself.
Santa Bárbara had one other radio station, Ondas del Ulúa on 1140 kHz medium wave (later 1150 kHz). They also announced 4770 kHz shortwave in their canned IDs and station staff assured me they would be adding shortwave “soon”. It never did happen but the WRTH did list the frequency as future plans for several years.
Ondas del Ulúa 1982 sign-off announcement mentioning 4770 kHz.
The department of Santa Bárbara had one other radio station, Radio Luz y Vida on 1600 and 3250 kHz in the town of San Luis. The founder, manager, and veri-signer for Radio Luz y Vida was a missionary from Oklahoma named Don Moore. Needless to say, this caused a lot of confusion in the DX world as some people assumed he and I were the same person. On the map, San Luis is only about thirty kilometers from Santa Bárbara but getting there involved a five-hour journey on two buses. I only went once and the other Don Moore was out of town, so I never met him. I did meet two nurses who were working at the mission’s health clinic.
These pictures were all taken in 1982 to 1984 while I lived in Santa Bárbara [click on photos to enlarge].
La Voz del Junco’s yellow sign on main street in downtown Santa Bárbara. The small tower on the left was the corner of what had been an army post but was being used as a regional prison in the early 1980s. I once went there every day for a week to supervise student-teachers doing adult literacy classes for the inmates. It was not a pleasant place to be.
Entrance to La Voz del Junco. The girl is examining a poster for the night’s showing at the makeshift movie theater that Don Miguel operated nearby. Continue reading →
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Don Moore–noted author, traveler, and DXer–for the following guest post series:
Don Moore’s Photo Album
by Don Moore
When I discovered DXing over fifty years ago I also discovered the world. Through my ears I traveled to other countries and explored other cultures. But DXing has also literally taken me places. My early interest in Latin American DXing developed into a broader interest in Latin America. That led to me joining the Peace Corps after college and working three years in Honduras. That experience furthered my interest in Latin America and I have continued to travel in the region whenever possible. For me DXing and travel were always intertwined. I’m one of a handful of hobbyists who took DXing beyond just listening and went knocking on broadcasters’ doors to visit the distant stations I heard. My ex-wife dubbed this ‘door-to-door DXing.’
To date I’ve visited over 150 radio stations in thirteen countries. A few were medium-wave or FM only, but I was always most interested in visiting broadcasters that used shortwave, either at the time of my visit or a few years before. As my station visits were primarily made in the 1980s and 1990s, almost all of the stations are long-gone from the shortwave bands. However, many are still around on medium wave and FM and often also via streaming on the Internet. As much as I miss the magic of shortwave I know that these stations reach more listeners today via streaming than they ever did with their low-powered shortwave transmitters. Honestly, I sometimes enjoy tuning them in without the fading and static of shortwave. But the memories of what shortwave once was are still there.
Photos also bring back memories. I took dozens of pictures on my station visits and enjoy scrolling through them now and then. You may have seen some of them. Many of my photos were printed with articles I wrote for various DX publications and I’ve done a few slide-shows at DX get-togethers over the years.
In this series of columns I want to share my old photos once again. If you’ve been DXing as long as I have maybe they’ll bring back memories of what you once heard. And if you haven’t been around that long you will have a better understanding of the good old days we oldtimers talk about.
Ecos Del Torbes
There is no better place to start this journey than with Ecos del Torbes. Using ten kilowatts on 4980 kHz, this Venezuelan broadcaster was possibly the most consistent station in the sixty-meter band throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. If you were DXing the tropical bands during those years you surely logged them a few times. If you were lucky you may even have heard their one kilowatt signal on 9640 kHz. They were a very good verifier and for many DXers Ecos del Torbes was among the first Latin American stations QSLed.
Just after Christmas in 1994, my then-wife, four-year-old daughter, and I flew to Mérida in western Venezuela for a family vacation. For ten days we had a great time in this Andean city and then Theresa and Rebecca returned to Iowa while I stayed another week to visit radio stations. I was also getting paid by the Voice of America to research and write a study on the media scene in Andean Venezuela. The now very-out-of-date report can be read at my Patepluma Radio website (which hasn’t been changed in over twenty years and is in need of a facelift).
In that week I visited fifteen radio stations in six towns and cities and Ecos del Torbes was the highlight. I arrived at their doorstep unannounced but was immediately treated as an important guest. I was given a great tour and even got to sit in on a live newscast to see the famous Venezuelan doorbell being used live. I was there about ninety minutes and then walked a block up the street to sister station Radio Táchira. Their facilities were smaller but that’s where the technical offices were and Chief Engineer Ivan Escobar had been told to expect me. Ivan gave me a tour and invited me to visit the Ecos del Torbes transmitter site with him in the afternoon. On the way we stopped by his house where his wife had lunch waiting for us. Visiting Ecos del Torbes was not just the highlight of this trip but ranks as one of my all-time favorite station visits. These pictures bring back many good memories.
Ecos del Torbes was located in the second floor of this building in downtown San Cristóbal. The entrance was the door on the side.
The small plaque next to the door was easy to miss. I walked right by the first time.
Edgar Fabala of the news department showed me around. Here he demonstrates the mini-xylophones that Venezuelan stations used to make the distinctive ‘doorbell’ sound that separated items in the news reports.
Announcer in the studio preparing to read the news.
The adjoining control room.
Ecos del Torbes had one of the largest record libraries in Venezuela. The LPs were color-coded by type.
Julio Achila was a control room operator who had worked at the station since it opened in 1947.
This pennant was considerably larger than the ones sent to DXers.
Sister station Radio Táchira was located a block up the street on the fourth floor of this building.
The Ecos del Torbes transmitter building.
The 50 kilowatt medium wave transmitter on 780 kHz.
Chief Engineer Ivan Escobar and Don Moore next to the 31 meter transmitter. The larger transmitter was for the well-heard 4980 kHz frequency.
The antenna array used for 4980 kHz. The medium wave tower is in the background.
Dipole antenna used for 9640 kHz.
San Cristóbal once had a third broadcaster on shortwave. Radio San Sebastian used 6070 kHz in the early 1970s. (They were not affiliated with Ecos del Torbes).
That was nearly three decades ago and a lot has changed. Ecos del Torbes and Radio Táchira have been gone from shortwave for over twenty years.
In 1995 Ecos del Torbes was at the corner of Calle 9 and Carrera 8, the same address as when I first QSLed them in 1972. Sometime since my visit they moved an outer neighborhood about two kilometers to the east. To find the new offices locate San Cristóbal on Google maps and then search for “Grupo Radial Gonzalez Lovera”. The transmitter site is still where I visited it and can be seen by plugging the coordinates “7.7885, -72.2725” into Google maps and switching to satellite view. (Ignore the picture that pops up to the side. That’s not it.) Zooming in, the medium wave tower is clearly visible but there are no signs of the old shortwave antennas. I suspect they were sold for scrap years ago. I never have found out where the Radio Táchira transmitter site was.
I’d love to go back to Venezuela someday and see some of the other cities that I used to listen to, such as Barquisimeto, Valencia, El Tigre, and Sucre. Unfortunately the political and economic situation there doesn’t look good and it doesn’t look as if it will improve any time soon. But when it does, I’ll be back.