Posted by: calloftheandes | June 1, 2010

From High in the Andes to Down Under

Work begins with handshakes all around for the volunteer crew at HCJB Global-Australia’s international broadcast facility in Kununurra.
It was not always so, according to engineer Steve Sutherland who will move to the remote town in Western Australia after recently wrapping up nearly two decades as an engineer and manager at Radio Station HCJB’s former shortwave site at Pifo, Ecuador.

Except for his university years and career start in the U.S., Sutherland’s home since childhood has always been South America. While greetings there vary, most often they involve a personal touch—a kiss on the cheek, an embrace perhaps, and at minimum a handshake.

So it was that Sutherland’s six months of tower work at Kununurra in 2008 carried with it a social ritual many Westerners may consider genteel, effusive or even time-wasting. The blond, blue-eyed engineer’s spoken English reveals just a hint of a Southern lilt, but he brings to Australia as well a bit of Latin America in the form of a handshake.

“I told the guys, ‘I’m sorry [but] this is my culture. I have to shake your hands,’” Sutherland recounted with a smile. “Within a couple of months, they were shaking each others’ hands without me instigating it. And we just had a real good time getting the work done.”

Broadcasting from Australia began on a 200-acre farm in 2003. Now on adjacent property, the Kununurra crew has begun developing a full-time transmission site, allowing for high-gain antennas. “We were able to raise six towers (in 2008), and this year we’re hoping to put up another four and the antennas strung up between them,” Sutherland continued. “We are hoping—if God allows—to be on the air [from the new site] in Kununurra.”

Sutherland’s wife, Kathy, and children, Jonathan, 9, and Carolyn, 7, will accompany him to Australia while their daughter Elizabeth will stay in Ecuador to study at HCJB Global’s Christian Center of Communications in Quito. Their oldest daughter, Christina, is a recent graduate of Asbury University in Kentucky and will be teaching.

Programs go out in 21 languages, airing a total of 105 hours per week. Languages include English, Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, Chhattisgarhi, Indonesian (Bahasa), Kuruk, Bhojpuri, Tamil, Marathi, Marwari, Telegu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Malay (Bahasa), Rawang, Min Nan Chinese (Fujian), Eastern Panjabi and Hmar. The antenna arrays on the new site will increase the reach of these broadcasts.

While Ecuador’s high-altitude transmitter site carried its own unique challenges (electrical arcing on antennas, for example), the steppe climate in Kununurra presents different ones.

The rains come each December and January, softening the ground of the antenna fields. “Actually, during a real wet year, you cannot get to the transmitter site itself,” he said. “We’re going to have to find a way to get out there to keep the equipment running.” Winds come with the dry season in the Andes, but not like Sutherland will see at Kununurra. He said when designing equipment, engineers must “think about 200 km/h (120 mph) winds.”

Sutherland hosted a steady stream of working volunteers at Pifo, with Ecuadorian staff as his stable work force. The Australia project will differ in that “we have (volunteers helping) for anything from a couple of days to three months,” he related.

“Most of the people who are volunteers are either retired or approaching retirement age,” Sutherland explained. “They bring a lot of good experience … different experiences.” He said of the ad hoc tower crew that “they have a heart to do all they can to get God’s Word out.”

File photo from Feb. 2006 by D. Birkey


  1. […] antenna arrays that once graced the Andean skyline are going up “down under,” according to Steve Sutherland, a former Pifo engineer now serving in […]

  2. […] the mission’s Australian World Office has been using shortwave since 2002 to broadcast from Kununurra, primarily in Asian languages, but it’s also licensed to broadcast to the South Pacific, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: