From This Tiny Island
Increasing the reach of Adventist World Radio in Asia
By Shelley Nolan Freesland
Patti! We’re done! It can rain now.”
The official conclusion to the project would come a bit later, but when Brook Powers phoned his wife, he and the other members of his small team knew they had reached their hard-fought goal. The shiny red-and-white radio tower was in place, supporting the massive new curtain antenna that would soon carry the gospel to even more listeners across Asia, and they no longer had to worry about the torrential downpours the oncoming rainy season would bring.
A Ministry With History
For 26 years people in such countries as China, North Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India have been hearing the Voice of Hope through Adventist World Radio’s (AWR) shortwave broadcasts from Guam. The list of broadcast languages has grown to 34, and the station now transmits programs for 287 hours a week across Asia.
When AWR—under the leadership of Powers, who is AWR’s chief engineer on Guam, and board member Loney Duncan, a retired radio-industry expert—studied the capacity and effectiveness of the station nearly three years ago, it became apparent that a major upgrade was needed. A $3 million campaign was launched, and ministry supporters responded. On September 3, 2013, AWR welcomed international and local guests to a rededication ceremony at the station, marking the completion of the project.
“This upgrade was accomplished in record time: only two years,” says AWR president Dowell Chow. “On average, it usually takes five years to install a project of this scope.”
The changes have enabled AWR to improve its broadcasts across Asia by transmitting over frequencies that better reach its target audiences and scheduling simultaneous broadcasts to multiple countries that will reach listeners during their respective peak listening times. The expanded capacity of approximately 25 percent is comparable to adding a whole new station to AWR’s operation, Powers says.
The theme of the rededication event was “From this tiny island . . . to the world.” During the ceremony, the Honorable Eddie Bazza Calvo, governor of Guam, picked up on the theme, saying, “There’s something I learned when I was in the retail business. You had three reasons for success: location, location, location. As I look at where Guam is . . . and then I look forward, and I see that map of Adventist World Radio and where it reaches, you’re looking at nearly 3 billion people. Then you look at the contact with 3 billion people, and what is that contact all about? It is about spreading the good news. What greater mission can any human being or any enterprise have than to spread the good news?”
The ceremony was held directly on the antenna field, at the base of the newest tower, which enabled attendees to experience close up the gigantic size of the broadcast equipment. They came away with a greater appreciation of the enormous effort that was required to complete the project.
No Small Effort
Phase one of the expansion involved the relocation of one of the station’s existing towers to accommodate the replacement of a low-frequency antenna with a higher-frequency one. The second and final phase consisted of erecting a new tower and adding a new high-frequency curtain antenna.
This construction was even more labor-intensive, as it required staff to move countless tons of soil, fill in a steep ravine, bury four-foot-diameter runoff culverts for erosion prevention, and pour 822 tons of concrete before the 229-foot tower could be erected. The average size of the station’s curtain antennas is 236 by 260 feet, approximately the size of two American football fields. During construction some broadcasts were shifted to commercial shortwave stations in Sri Lanka and Europe for several months so that listeners could receive uninterrupted service.
The weather was a huge factor, as all construction had to be completed during Guam’s six-month-long dry season. Powers says, “This upgrade happened essentially with five guys—Gordon Garner, Ben Stern, Donaldo Storey, David Hendrick, and myself—an incredible amount of equipment, and a whole lot of blessing by God. All through the process, I [saw] the hand of God leading in this project.”
At the rededication Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, also paid tribute to God’s leading: “What really powers this station is the Holy Spirit. It is technologically driven, it is information-oriented, but AWR Guam and AWR itself are not necessarily in the information business, we are in the inspiration business. . . . God wants us to ask for miracles, He wants us to ask for something extraordinary. As we stand here today underneath all of the infrastructure . . . we can truly say that this is an answer to prayer.”
The facility on Guam is the only shortwave station that AWR owns; in other parts of the world AWR leases broadcast time on commercial shortwave stations. Worldwide, AWR broadcasts programs in nearly 100 languages, through shortwave and AM/FM radio, on demand at awr.org, and podcasts. The advantage of shortwave radio is that the signals can travel for thousands of miles, reaching listeners in areas that are geographically remote or closed to local Christian broadcasts. This continues to be a key component of AWR’s service.
A Ministry of Life
Letters from AWR listeners vividly demonstrate the power of radio. One young listener in China wrote: “I’m a new listener of Voice of Hope. I seldom listened to the radio before I became handicapped. During the hard time in my sickness, I turned on my radio and heard your voice. To me, it was just like God’s voice. That’s given me hope and light. I forget the pain when I’m listening to such good programs.”
Governor Calvo eloquently summed up AWR’s ministry when he said: “There are a lot of things happening all over the world. . . . We live in very complicated times. Why I’m so blessed to be here, and why I’m here to congratulate you all and to give thanks for all you’re doing, is because in the midst of a contemporary world that is filled with a lack of spiritual direction and meaning to what life is all about, there’s this: there’s . . . Adventist World Radio, there’s a voice and a message for eternity, and it is about bringing life to all of us, an eternal life.”
Shelley Nolan Freesland is communication director for Adventist World Radio.