50 years of shortwave broadcasts from the Netherlands

First transmitters
First (rotatable wooden) transmitters built by Philips for PCJ and after the war for Radio Netherlands. Philips had a factory nearby.

To mark its 30th anniversary in 1977, Radio Nederland or Radio Netherlands, the Dutch international broadcaster, produced a half-hour programme looking back at the history of shortwave transmissions from the Netherlands.

The first Dutch overseas broadcast dated back to 1927, the pioneering year of shortwave telephony. The Philips Laboratories in Eindhoven started experimenting with the PCJJ shortwave transmitter. In what is now present-day Indonesia, A.C. de Groot, a technical officer of the Netherlands East Indies PTT and a radio amateur, spent an entire night monitoring the 30 metre band in the hope of hearing amateurs operating in Morse code from The Netherlands. Sometime around 3:00 A.M., he heard a voice in Dutch saying: “This is an experimental transmission from the Philips Laboratory in Eindhoven, Holland on the wavelength of 30.2 meters”.

That same year, the N.V. PHOHI (Philips Omroep Holland-Indië), was established. It was a joint commercial operation involving Philips and other Dutch companies with interests in the East-Indies and using the PCJJ transmitter.

A year later, in November 1928, Edward (Eddie) Startz began broadcasting his “Happy Station” using the PCJJ transmitter. It gradually gained a worldwide audience, and Startz dropped the second J of PCJJ, saying that PCJ stood for “Peace, Cheer and Joy: The Happy Station of a friendly nation”.

In May 1940, Radio Nederland suspended its shortwave operations after the German invasion of the Netherlands. The Nazis destroyed the station’s transmitter, but later they succeeded in repairing the PCJJ equipment and used it to broadcast propaganda to India (“The Voice of Free India”).

Shortly afterwards, Dutch exiles began using French shortwave transmitters to broadcast a programme called “Vrij Nederland” (Free Netherlands), which ended a month later with the German invasion of Paris. In London, the Dutch government in exile established “Radio Oranje” in late 1940.

The director of Radio Oranje was Hendrik van den Broek, and in 1944 he established a station called “Herrijzend Nederland” on the grounds of the Philips Company in Eindhoven. When the whole of the Netherlands was liberated, he moved his operation to Hilversum, and thus Radio Nederland was born.

After long discussions about broadcasting in the post-war Netherlands, the private non-profit foundation Stichting Radio Nederland Wereldomroep was established on April 15, 1947. 

Broadcast: April 15, 1977 to mark Radio Nederland’s 30th anniversary


There are some 1500 international broadcasting stations on the air. You are listening to just one: Radio Nederland Wereldomroep in Hilversum, Holland.

30 years ago today, Stichting Radio Nederland Wereldomroep was set up in The Hague, not the first Dutch shortwave service, but a new private foundation, backed by Dutch government encouragement and money with the task of overseas broadcasting. Radio Nederland’s first director Hendrik van den Broek:

There are really two reasons for the existence of Radio Nederland, and we do are work in two ways: through our foreign language transmissions and through our transcription service, which produces and records any phase of such life in and culture. We try to tell the rest of the world about life in the Netherlands, our institutions and traditions. The other reason for our existence is our broadcasts in the Dutch language. As you know, many thousands of our countrymen emigrate each year to find a new life in a strange land. Its our aim in our Dutch broadcasts to supply a link between the homeland and the new country, to try to ease the shock of the completely new environment by providing news and entertainment straight from home. I am confident that in the years to come, we will continue to further our activities along both these lines for the mutual benefit and understanding of all.

…the late Hendrik van den Broek speaking in 1955. But to find the origins of Dutch overseas broadcasting, we have to go back 50 years to 1927, the pioneering year of shortwave telephony – telephony, the transmission of the human voice via shortwave. Shortwave telegraphy was already an established fact. There was a telegraphed shortwave link between Holland and the East Indies, but some British shortwave amateurs were convinced that one could transmit the human voice in wavelengths below 100 metres, then considered technically impossible. In the early 1920’s, British and American amateurs proved that a transatlantic link was possible, and a Dutch engineer, Mr. White, returned to the Philips Laboratories in 1925 enthusiastic about the prospect. Under Dr. Balt van der Pol, the Philips engineers created a 300-Watt transmitter which broadcast to Europe on 90.56 metres in 1926. They broke the 100-metre barrier. They continued to reach for even shorter wavelength for use by the human voice.

For the second time in the short history of broadcasting, it has been left to Holland to steal a march on this country and in fact on Europe generally. The station PCJJ, established at the Philips Land Laboratories at Eindhoven in Holland, communicated by wireless telephony with the station in Bandung in the Dutch East Indies. The transmission was carried out on a wavelength of approximately 30 metres. Since that initial success, fairly regular broadcasting has been conducted. Now, as we go to press, comes the announcement that the Sydney station 2BL has successfully re-broadcast one of the programmes. It will be of interest to observe whether the example set by Holland will be followed by other countries in Europe.

An editorial in the British radio amateur magazine Wireless World on April 27, 1927. But what lies behind this story? Well the Philips engineering team had torn down their 300-Watt transmitter in 1926 and rebuilt it to operate at 25 kilowatts at around 30 metres. In Bandung, Java, Mr. A.C. De Groot, a radio amateur with a call sign PJ 1, was an official of the Dutch PTT, and he was DX-ing in the night of 11-12th March 1927 hoping to pick up some Morse code signals from Holland. The airwaves in the 30-36 metre wave bands were filled with the code signals of Australian brass pounders pumping out 300 to 400 Watts trying to reach England, and their activity didn’t slow down until well past midnight. The Australians were still filling the frequencies on which Mr. de Groot had hoped to hear Holland, but suddenly he picked up a carrier wave which was steady, stable, firm, no distortion, no frequency modulation. A solid fix of a transmitter Mr. de Groot had never heard before, and it was transmitting music, music as clear as a phonograph…on shortwave…but no station call. If music could be broadcast so clearly, obviously voice could be as well. So why didn’t they talk? Well at 3:30 in the morning, de Groot found out who was broadcasting. The music stopped and a voice said in Dutch:

This is an experimental transmission from the Philips Laboratory in Eindhoven, Holland on 30.2 metres.

A voice from home. De Groot sent a confirmation telegram to Eindhoven and shortwave telephony was a fact with an experimental transmitter of 25 kilowatts: world news.

World news but also the beginning of a whole new world of broadcasting, overseas, international, spanning boundaries, linking people in remote corners of the world. PCJJ was an experimental transmitter, and it was joined later in the shortwave bands in 1927 by the General Electric Company’s transmitter 2XAF across the Atlantic. Its relay of a programme from WGY’s Schenectady (??) was received in Australia on 32.77 metres. But Holland was the pioneer in Europe.

In April, A.F. Philips, the director of the Philips company, addressed the Dutch colonies in the East & West Indies, pointing out on PCJJ the obvious of the obvious advantageous of telephony for the “scattered kingdoms” of the Kingdom of Netherlands. But, Mr. Philips, a sharp businessman, saw a bit more in PCJJ than just that. Because in had within it the seed of a new sort of programme service, and soon the N.V. PHOHI was set up, a limited liability commercial company with the backing of the largest Dutch companies with colonial interests: banks, rubber, tobacco, shipping, etc. The N.V. PHOHI, which stood for Philips Omroep Holland-Indië, asked the Dutch government for full broadcasting authority to maintain links between the homeland and its colonies and to provide the overseas Dutch with daily direct contact with the events and culture of Holland…on a commercial basis.

Your readers who have listened to PCJJ have no doubt noticed that the station is being used for propaganda purposes on behalf of the company which runs it.

A letter published in Wireless World on May 11, 1927. What would you have heard on PCJJ in 1927? Well, much the same as today: recorded music, speeches by government officials and businessmen, music by the Philips company brass band, but PCJJ also relayed a programme by the BBC’s domestic station, 2LO, proving to the British that they too could have their own British Empire Service and that caused quite a stir in Britain – the lion scooped by the little Dutch farmer.

PCJJ pulled off a double shortwave coup on May 31, 1927 by broadcasting the first ever live address by a reigning monarch when Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands spoke to the colonies in the West Indies. That was followed by a performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw – a bit of which you have already heard – and then in the early hours of June 1st 1927, the Dutch monarch spoke to the colonies in the East Indies. And that caused quite a stir around the world too. The Americans stirred up as much interest by broadcasting live the arrival of Charles A. Limburg in New York City and later the BBC started to experiment with shortwave telephony from Chelmsford.

Until 1933, shortwave broadcasting in Holland went through some changes. PCJJ had to be moved north to Huizen near the Zuider Zee because it was interfering with other Philips’ experiments. The N.V. PHOHI went on the air for some months, but then it had to go dark for lack of a broadcasting permit and money. The Dutch domestic broadcasting societies wanted to have shortwave broadcasting put under the same umbrella regulations as was domestic broadcasting. They did not want to have it in the hands of a private commercial company. There was a great deal of parliamentary debate and political problems.

From 1933 to 1940, however, the N.V. PHOHI and PCJJ did broadcast to the colonies and the world under a 10-year broadcasting permit issued after a great deal of parliamentary debate and private negotiations. The Dutch government created a study commission for international broadcasting in 1937 to come up with a more workable plan pleasing to all factions for a new Netherlands’ overseas service. That study commission produced its plan in 1939. It called for a private, non-profit foundation, which would be made up of all the domestic broadcast societies and with a small staff of its own, a solution not unlike Radio Nederland today. But, before that plan could be put into practice, Holland was invaded by the Germans in May 1940.

For four days, PCJJ broadcast to the world the events of the invasion, but the end came very soon. Engineer Martin Ruis was there.  

We had started the Wilhelmus for the opening of the transmission in the late afternoon and then got word that Eddie Startz had been arrested. This was the afternoon of May 13th 1940. We played two records because no one knew what to do. Then we closed down. That was the last broadcast before the Germans reached Huizen. Then we got orders to blow up the installations. We blew up the 19 and 31 metre transmitters, turned off PCJ’s water cooling equipment which quickly ruined the tubes. Then we fired pistol shots into the oil tanks of the transformers and broke the dials and metres with a broom stick. The Dutch army engineers blew up one of the famous rotating antenna towers, thinking it would fall into its ?? and destroy both, but it just hung there half destroyed. Then we had to get out of there.

Eddie Startz, the creator of the Happy Station in 1928 for PCJJ, in fact was anti-Nazi, but he was born in Aachen Germany and so was detained under the war-time emergency. He was quickly released but not to broadcast on PCJJ and the PHOHI. The destroyed installation was not beyond repair. The Germans later used PCJJ and the rotating antenna towers to broadcast false propaganda, a station identifying itself as the Voice of Free India broadcasting in Hindi.

But that’s not where Dutch shortwave broadcasting ended. Paris and London took over where Hilversum ended. War time, in fact all times of trouble, puts radio into a new position of importance. Before the Second World War, Holland had maintained a position of strict neutrality in the face of the growing fascist menace. That meant that PCJJ and PHOHI were forbidden to broadcast anything that remotely resembled propaganda. It wasn’t mere chance that Eddy Startz called his programme: “The Happy Station of a Friendly Station: PCJ – Peace, Cheer and Joy”.

War changed that. It also brought new people into Dutch broadcasting. Hendrik van den Broek, Radio Nederland’s first director, had been a newspaper correspondent in Paris before the war. The invasion of Holland left him and his fellow journalists in Paris cut off from home. A group of them obtained permission to take over the French radio’s Dutch-language programmes, which they called “Vrij Nederland” – Free Netherlands. That programme lasted less than a month before the German invasion of Paris. In its last days, Vrij Nederland’s programmes were relayed to the Far East by the French Far East service in Saigon.


Over in London, the Dutch government in exile created in late 1940 Radio Oranje, the official voice of the Dutch government. Radio Oranje was joined in 1941 by a special programme for Dutch seamen, De Brandaris, and wartime propaganda broadcasting began. Dutch journalist/broadcaster Bob den Doolard in one programme addressed himself to the subject of sabotage.

[Excerpt – in Dutch]

I personally listened all the time as soon as I knew that they were on the air. I had a radio set hidden in the attic. Nobody could find it except myself. Every evening… It was tuned to the BBC permanently. So I switched it on and listened to whatever they had to tell. Boy, it was such a relief to know that these people still cared for us in occupied Holland. Q: How long each day did they broadcast? Approximately 20 minutes off and on. Sometimes it was garbled, of course. It was jammed. But we could make out what was being said.

[Excerpt – Dutch]

Eventually newspaper correspondent Hendrik van den Broek became head of Radio Oranje. This also made him head of the government’s radio service, and when the south of the Netherlands was liberated in the autumn of 1944, van den Broek created a station called “Herrijzend Nederland” on the grounds of the Philips company. When some months later the whole of the Netherlands was liberated in May 1945, van den Broek moved his operation up to Hilversum and soon its programmes were relayed via the BBC shortwave transmitters. Meanwhile, the Dutch PTT crew was working hard to reassemble the PCJJ transmitter. The Germans had components scattered from Hilversum down to The Hague. PCJJ was put back on the air in October 1945 and shortwave broadcasting from the Netherlands was resumed after a lapse of five years.

That Dutch language programme of October 13th 1945 featured the famous voices of Radio Oranje: van den Broek who broadcast as “de Rotterdamder”,  Bob den Doolard who you just heard, Lou de Jong and George Sluizer. The programme’s message was simple and appropriate to war-torn Holland: “we’re back in our own country. Masters again. The war is won. Let’s get Holland back on its feet.”

In those last months of 1945, one of PCJ’s most important programme segments was “The Family Message”.

“The Family de Wit seeks any information about Private Johannes de Wit, last heard of…”

…and so on. But the war had disrupted the broadcasting world in Holland itself. There was a strong movement to create from the ashes a new broadcasting organisation, a national organisation, something like the BBC. That radio battle took 18 months to settle. And in the end, broadcasting in Holland was returned with some modifications to the pre-war situation of many broadcasting societies. Where did that leave Radio Nederland, an overseas service with really no pre-war history?

As before the war, the domestic societies pressed for a policy decision that would put overseas broadcasting on the same basis as domestic broadcasting, all time divided among the various broadcasting societies. Hendrik van den Broek, a committed proponent of an international broadcasting service, fought this tooth and nail, and after weeks of hard negotiations he convinced the cabinet ministers that there should be a private, non-profit foundation created to operate the Dutch overseas service.

Stichting Radio Nederland Wereldomroep, created on April 15, 1947, was the result. But Radio Nederland did have some links with pre-war Dutch shortwave. Eddie Startz resumed his Happy Station broadcasts twice a week starting in late 1945. Some of the pre-war writers and broadcasters joined Radio Nederland. But the new station had a number of political battles as hard to win as the Second World War.


In the 1930’s, Dutch shortwave concentrated on programmes for the colonies in the East and West Indies. After 1945, the Dutch East Indies became important in a new way. Indonesian nationalism was very strong. An Indonesian Republic under Sukarno had been proclaimed even before PCJ returned to the air in 1945. So on May 1st 1946, Radio Nederland did something unthinkable before the war: it began broadcasting programmes in Bahasa Indonesian: Radio Nederland’s first foreign language service. Its purpose was to keep contact, especially with students and leaders of Indonesia  in their own tongue, trying to keep friendly ties with Holland and Indonesia. A war of independence was on. Was Radio Nederland broadcasting propaganda? In a way. But propaganda in the form of clear news about rather confused events.

Radio Nederland tried to assert itself as a private broadcasting service, something related to but not part of the Dutch government…a rather tricky job of tight-rope walking. After mail service was resumed between Holland and Indonesia, it appeared that Radio Nederland had done its job well. But in the late 1940’s, Holland’s World War Two allies were bringing pressure on the Netherlands to devest itself of its colonial possessions in the East. Queen Wilhelmina finally resolved the issue.

Colonialism is dead. We do not disown our past and the proud achievements of bygone days. But a nation must be strong enough to make a new beginning. We shall be strong enough.

Radio Nederland had served well. Bahasa Indonesian was joined in 1947 by a skeleton English and Spanish service.  In 1949 by Arabic and Afrikaans. But it was still operating on the antiquated PCJ transmitter of 35 kilowatts and two five-kilowatt emergency transmitters. A staff of six in 1945 had grown to more than 150 housed in a few converted mansions in Hilversum. And in the tough post-war years of Marshall Plan help, it must have been a small miracle to get even the small 40-kilowatt transmitter which the queen inaugurated in late 1949.

The government had made it known in 1951 that Radio Nederland could help out in the Western broadcasting effort of the Cold War by ?? up a programme into the Iron Curtain countries. So Radio Nederland instituted a French service for Eastern Europe but received no extra money and no letters from behind the Iron Curtain, and the whole experiment was dropped after 11 months. And it took more than a few years before Radio Nederland took the delivery of the necessary 100-kilowatt transmitters vital in the growing density of the shortwave band.

By the late 1950’s, Radio Nederland put three 100 kilowatt transmitters into service and obtained a piece of land on which to build a new studio and office complex. That was opened in 1960 on the Witte Kruislaan. And the decade of the 1960’s saw the stabilisation of Radio Nederland, the end of the post-war period of fevered improvisation, experimentation and making-do.

The management saw that obtaining 500 kilowatt transmitters, quickly becoming necessary to reach around the world from Holland, was out of the question. So, it decided to move the transmitters closer to the listener by setting up relay stations in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean: Bonaire and Madagascar. Now, more people could hear Eddy Startz clearly.

[Excerpt Eddy Startz in Spanish, French & English]

But time was moving inexorably. Eddy Startz retired. The Happy Station was taken over by Tom Meyer. More broadcasters retired or left, many to take on important positions at home. Today only a handful of the old-timers are left at Radio Nederland, and the station’s programming ideas have changed too – no longer just “keep in touch with the Dutch” as Startz used to say, but Radio Nederland has become a real informational service for the direct and immediate benefit of people around the world. From its ancestry in colonial broadcasting to nationalistic war-time broadcasting and then an economics booster, Radio Nederland has come into maturity.

That’s the programming side. But where do we go from here in technology? Will shortwave transmissions become obsolete in the coming years? Here’s Radio Nederland’s technical expert, Jim Vastenhout.

You could expect a slow decline in the interest of shortwave radio, shortwave broadcasting due to the growth of television and FM broadcasting and also the satellite television which will come directly to the homes which will come around 1985. FM broadcasting and television are regional things, and they are still growing in the world. We’ve seen this process in South America. Now it goes to Africa and to Asia. And this means that the interest of the people is likely to be shifting from the less reliable reception on shortwave. This, of course, excludes the remote areas where shortwave will always remain important. Now, the facts are contrary to the expectations. If you look at the annual growth of shortwave, powerful shortwave transmitters for international services, you’ll see that never have the transmitter factories been so booked with orders for various countries. And the annual growth of shortwave transmitters in the world is about 5%, which means that we get more and more shortwave broadcast transmitters on the air. Q: Not just replacements of old ones, but these are new services, new transmitters. JV: These are an entirely new generation of shortwave broadcasters, especially in oil countries. Let’s mention Nigeria, Venezuela, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Egypt to a certain extent. They all plan new and powerful shortwave broadcast transmitters where they had almost nothing in the past. This means that shortwave means something to those people in terms of international broadcasting. Now you must realise that shortwave broadcasting is a real efficient means for worldwide propagation of signals. It’s the only means to reach worldwide for instance into China, into Russia. So as a political means of broadcasting it remains very, very important. And, in fact, the importance of shortwave listening is suddenly increasing in times of tensions, political tensions in the world. This, of course, means that shortwave will be, will remain a very important mass communications means not only for the remote areas but also in the next 15 years or so to come, I think… Q: But it will have more competition from regional FM services and television. JV: Yes, especially in the towns where we expect to lose audiences unless of course sudden political tensions emerge. Then everybody will suddenly turn to shortwave for more reliable, direct from the source information on information.

[Excerpt – Radio Nederland broadcasts in Indonesian, Spanish, Arabic]

Radio Nederland Wereldomroep, just one international service of some 1500, but we were here from the start, so stick around! As Eddy Startz used to say:

“Don’t forget to keep in touch with the Dutch!”

We’ll make it worth your while.