The Mystery of the Dixon Voice of America Relay Station

from Merrill Stevenson, KG6AMW on June 30, 2006

Note: This article was found on the Wayback Machine (archive.com)

My interest in radio goes back many years and as a youth I would experiment with simple wire antennas and attempt to tune in distant AM stations on my father’s old cathedral radio. Later I used a Hallicrafters S-120 shortwave radio along with a trap antenna to listen to the BBC, Radio Australia and the Voice of America "VOA".

Recently I was talking an old friend who is an avid shortwave listener and the subject of VOA programming and history came up. We both agreed that at some point the VOA operated a relay station in northern California near the town of Dixon, but were unsure of its current status. I began to reflect back and wondered whatever happened to Dixon VOA.

The history of the VOA Dixon Relay Station goes back more than sixty years. Though not as famous as Bethany Ohio or Greenville North Carolina, it played a roll in the VOA success story. Prior to the inception of VOA, there were a number of shortwave broadcast stations in the United States of America operated by the National Broadcasting Company, Columbia Broadcasting System, General Electric, Westinghouse, Associated Broadcasters, Crosley Radio Corporation, Worldwide Broadcasting Foundation and the WCAU Broadcasting Company. Prior to World War II, The United States Government contracted with some of these companies for broadcasting government programming.

With the outbreak of World War II, the government opened a new agency, the Office of War Information (OWI) the genesis of the Voice of America. Following Pearl Harbor, the federal government decided to go forward with its own shortwave broadcast under the Voice of America program. As part of process they acquired interest in the broadcasting facilities at Delano and Dixon, California in the early mid 1940’s to transmit programs to the Far East and the Pacific Rim.

I contacted the VOA on several occasions to gain information on Dixon, but in each case, they never responded. So, my wife and I decided to take a Sunday morning drive out to the town of Dixon for breakfast and from there do some exploring in the country side and see if we could find it. Using a street map guide I located several government communications facilities in the general area. As we drove out further and further out into the country side risking getting lost on roads that seem to become more and more decrepit we began to notice radio towers on the far horizon. Then little by little the wire antennas began to appear and finally, there it was acres and acres of wire antennas along with a number of old buildings – now which one.

VOA Dixon from a distance

Of the four original major domestic VOA transmitting facilities Dixon remains one of the least known facilities. Greenville North Carolina and Delano California locations continue to be operated and maintained by the VOA. Bethany Ohio was decommissioned in the mid 1990's but has an active restoration program underway to preserve the facility. We finally arrived at Radio Station Road and my wife and I stopped the car and got out to have a closer look to see if we located the VOA facility. It wasn’t easy since there are two other facilities with old buildings and big antennas nearby.

rhombic antennas in the background

To the south of the main VOA structure is what appears to be the original ATT/NBC broadcasting facility while next door is an abandoned naval communications facility. The style of construction of the building in these photos matches the other domestic VOA facilities which have a concrete/stucco appearance along with very high tower connected to the building. The purpose of the observation tower is for viewing the surrounding area for security reasons. It looks like we found the VOA facility at last.

building entrance

The heart of the site is of course the transmitters and antennas. Most prominently visible are two larger dipole arrays, consisting of rows and columns of dipoles known as a curtain antenna which are rated up to 500 kilowatts. The VOA favored these antennas because of their ability to handle high power and while offering different angles of signal radiation to reach various parts of the globe.

dipol arrays / curtain antenna curtain antennas from a distance

The Collins and General Electric AM transmitters were the standard workhorses for VOA Dixon. When the VOA took over they inherited several transmitters including a 100 kilowatt General Electric transmitter and smaller RCA shortwave transmitters. Later three COLLINS 250 kilowatt transmitters were added to Dixon in the late 1960’s to improve the broadcast.

With the advent of newer satellite-based technology VOA Bethany Ohio and Dixon California Stations were no longer needed as much, and they were decommissioned. Transmissions from the Dixon Relay Station ceased in 1983. Since this time the facility has remained closed and for the most part unused, although it’s interesting that the antennas remain. Rumor has it that a private company moved into the facility recently and is using it for commercial marine HF communications; however, I was unable to confirm this.

VOA Dixon power station

The broadcast history of the VOA is an interesting one and the Dixon relay station played a major roll along with the others VOA stations in California, Ohio and North Carolina. Fortunately for us who have an interest in the radio history, these facilities still exist but for how long we don’t know.