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 By Bernd Trutenau, 4 February 2002

lithuanc_thmAt a time when international broadcasters are considerably reducing their services or are closing them down, Lithuania decided to strengthen its voice on the air. Since the upgrading of Lithuania's shortwave site, Radio Vilnius can be heard with a good signal all across the Western hemisphere, and the shortwave relay facilities in the country have became a subject of interest for other broadcasters as well.

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Head of the Sitkunai transmitting station, Jonas Stanionis (right) and chief engineer Petras Leskevicius in front of the new 100kW SW transmitter.

On 1 April 1999, a new 100kW shortwave transmitter was taken into service in the Lithuanian transmitting centre Sitkunai, some 20km north of Kaunas, Lithuania's second largest town.

Sitkunai (geogr. coordinates: 23E49/55N02) is the main transmitting centre in Lithuania. It is owned by Lietuvos radijas ir televizijas centras (LRTC), a subsidary of Lithuanian Telecom (Lietuvos Telekomas). The complex houses two shortwave as well as several high power mediumwave transmitters. A detailed map of the transmitting site can be found at this URL.

Sitkunai - A short history
The year 1918 marked the beginning of the first period of independence for Lithuania from the Tsarist Russian Empire. Eight years later on 12 June 1926, Kauno radiofonas, the first national Lithuanian radio station, went on the air. The low power longwave transmitter (on 153/155 kHz) in the centre of the capital Kaunas (today's capital Vilnius was under Polish administration in those years) did not cover the country sufficiently though. In 1937 the decision was made to build a new transmitting centre near the village of Sitkunai, north of Kaunas.

The building works started in 1939, and after completion, a 120kW mediumwave transmitter from Standard Telephone & Cables (STC) in the UK was ordered. However, the outbreak of the Second World War stopped the shipment, and the transmitter stayed in Britain. It was installed at Brookmans Park, boosted to 140 kW, and went on the air on 2 March 1941 as part of a synchronized network on 804 kHz where it transmitted the BBC's European Programme for many years.

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View of the main transmitter hall: (from left) the old 50kW shortwave transmitter from 1952, the new 100kW shortwave transmitter from Continental Electronics, and the 500kW Vikhr mediumwave transmitter (666 kHz).

The empty transmitter buildings in Sitkunai survived the war with almost no damage (only the power house was destroyed) and were used as military compound by the German occupation army in 1941-44, and later when Lithuania was incorporated into the Soviet Union, as a primary school.

After the end of the war, in the late 40s, the Lithuanian Soviet Republic was still badly covered by radio signals, and the Soviet authorities decided to continue the building work at Sitkunai and turn the site into a main shortwave & mediumwave transmitting centre.

During 1951/52 two 50 kW shortwave transmitters made in pre-war Germany (Telefunken "Olympia") arrived in Sitkunai, dismantled from an East German utility site as war reparation. These transmitters received the Soviet callsigns RV-179 and RV-180. Several curtain antennas were erected, for the beams 79/259° and for transmissions in a north-south direction. Also one 150 kW mediumwave transmitter was installed (665 kHz).

Moscow Relays
Sitkunai started to broadcast Radio Moscow's "5th Programme" (for Russians abroad) on shortwave to the Far East on the 79° beam, as well as various Radio Moscow services to Africa. But the daily retuning of the shortwave frequencies had a detrimental effect on the transmitters, and around 1976 the RV-170 had to be taken out of service. It was dismantled, the parts being used as spare parts for the RV-180.

 

Built by a German contractor: the new curtain antenna for broadcasts to North America (310°).

At the same time, RV-180 was switched to relay Lithuanian Republican Radio 1, initially with a beam of 79° (towards the central parts of the USSR). In 1977/78 the beam was changed to 259° (Central Europe). The main frequencies were 6100 and 9710 kHz. The relays of Radio Moscow's Foreign Service were discontinued because of the low power of this transmitter. The USSR authorities always tried to hide the true location of this transmitting site, and still in the early 90s the location was registered as "Petrozavodsk", "Konevo" (near Leningrad/St.Petersburg) or "Kaliningrad" in Soviet (later Russian) official transmitter lists.

The Struggle for Independence
In January 1991, in the course of the struggle of the Baltic States for independence from the USSR, Sitkunai was among those transmitting sites in the Baltics which were seized by the Soviet army and occupied for several months. It was the most tragic time in recent Lithuanian history. Thirteen civilians died when trying to defend the TV tower in Vilnius against Soviet special troops on 13 January 1991.

A few months later, Lithuania won the struggle and was recognized as a sovereign state again. The start of restructuring of the Lithuanian economy brought hard days for Sitkunai. Due to rising energy costs, the relays of the Home Service were drastically cut, and the shortwave station was on the air for only some few hours a day, mainly relaying the Radio Vilnius Foreign Service in Lithuanian & English. Because of the lack of a high power shortwave transmitter, Lithuanian Radio was not able to reach its important audience in North America reliably from Lithuanian soil. The transmissions of Radio Vilnius to the American continent were over many years conducted via a high power transmitter in Tbiliskaya near Krasnodar in Southern Russia, but were moved to the Deutsche Telekom transmitting station in Jülich, Germany in the mid-90s.

The Child of a Minister and DXer
Rimantas Pleikys
In 1996, the newly appointed Lithuanian Minister of Communications, Rimantas Pleikys, decided to put the reconstruction of the Sitkunai shortwave site on top of his ministry's agenda. Rimantas Pleikys, journalist and founder of M-1, the first non-state radio station in the USSR (in Vilnius) back in 1989, is also an active DXer.

Lithuanian National Radio, the primary customer of the Sitkunai site, has a considerable audience of Lithuanian origin abroad and considers it of vital importance to provide a link with home for these listeners. During and after WWII, many Lithuanians emigrated to Western countries, like Germany and the USA, among them the current Lithuanian president of state, Valdas Adamkus.

Lithuanian parliament approved the funding for the upgrading of the Sitkunai site. Four international companies participated in the tender for the new equipment, and the final decision went in favour of Continental Electronics from Dallas, Texas.

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The new HR4/2/0.5 type curtain antenna for Central Europe (259°)

In the first weeks of 1999, the transmitter (model 418F) arrived in Lithuania, and following some test transmissions, Radio Vilnius started regular broadcasts on 1 April 1999, after a new HR4/2/0.5 type curtain antenna was erected for the West European beam of 259°. Transmissions on the 79° beam to Russia/Belarus started on 7 May 1999, but were discontinued later in the year. For this direction an old HR4/2/0.5 type antenna was being used with a reduced power of 50kW. In 2000, a completely new antenna was erected for the North American beam at 310° (type HR4/4/1), so that in spring 2001 Radio Vilnius finally was able to move all its transmissions to the Sitkunai centre, and the relays via Jülich in Germany ended.

Both the 100 kW and the old 50 kW transmitters are available for airtime leasing, and several broadcasters have been using these facilities, among them the religious station Universelles Leben (Germany) which has been transmitting from Sitkunai every Sunday on 9710 kHz for several years.

The Schedules (season B01):

9710 100kW (259°)

  • 0900-0930 Radio Vilnius in Lithuanian
  • 0930-1000 Radio Vilnius in English
  • 1200-1300 Universelles Leben (Sun only)

9875 100kW (310°)

  • 2300-2330 Radio Vilnius in Lithuanian
  • 2330-2400 Radio Vilnius in English

7325 100kW (310°)

  • 0000-0030 Radio Vilnius in Lithuanian
  • 0030-0100 Radio Vilnius in English

Contacts:

This is an updated version of an article originally published in 1999.

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