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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan, July 29, 2007
General MacArthur’s Brisbane Radio

It is a little known fact that over a lengthy period of time, the United States has built and/or operated a cluster of radio stations in mainland Australia, and if our count is correct, it could be almost a dozen in number.  If we take into account their radio stations in the Australian territories north of the continent, then that number would increase to two or three dozen, or perhaps even more.  Here in our DX program “Wavescan,” we will take a look at some of these radio stations, one by one progressively, as we have the opportunity.

On this occasion, we take a look at what is probably the first radio station built by the Americans in Australia and it was established for communication with their national capital, Washington, DC. 

We go back to the year 1941.  You will remember the concentrated stress-filled events of that era.  At this stage, General Douglas MacArthur was on duty in the Philippines, and in order to keep up with the rapidly changing events in the Pacific and Asia, he tuned in every evening to the news bulletins on shortwave coming from the powerful and quite new station, KGEI in Belmont California.

In February 1942, under orders from MacArthur, a quite new 1 kw. shortwave transmitter was removed from station KZRH in downtown Manila and re-activated on the Bataan peninsula, on the edge of Manila Bay.  This station identified on air as “Freedom Radio” and it was established for coverage in nearby areas of the Philippines.  However, during its short life span of about four months, it was also heard quite regularly in Australia and New Zealand.

In March, MacArthur was ordered by President Roosevelt to evacuate to Australia and he did so by traveling at night in a small motor powered PT boat, and then by plane.  Originally it was intended that this plane should land in Darwin, the city that is now the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory.  However, there was an air raid on at the time and so the plane was quickly diverted to a primitive airstrip at lonely Batchelor, some 80 miles further south.  Another plane took him and his entourage to Alice Springs where he caught the exotic little train affectionately known as the “Ghan” and a couple of days later he arrived in Adelaide and then went on to Melbourne.  

It was in Melbourne that MacArthur first established his Australian headquarters and he began to map out a strategy for the areas of the South Pacific.  He proposed a plan to the Australian government that America would construct a railway line running from Cloncurry in outback Queensland up to Darwin at the “Top End.”  This project, he suggested, would be accomplished at no cost to Australia for men nor materials.  However, the Australian Labor Unions nixed this intended project.

At this stage, MacArthur also proposed to establish his headquarters on a mobile train that could effectively move quickly to any desired location, and he also suggested that a shortwave station capable of international communication should be established on this train.  A report in the American journal, “Radio News,” states that the U.S. Army Signal Corps actually did install several high powered shortwave transmitters onboard railway carriages for us by MacArthur.  It seems that the high powered radio transmitters referred to here were actually 3 kw. teletype and Morse Code units. 

In view of the fact that railway usage in Australia was “out” as far as MacArthur was concerned, then in mid 1942 he transferred his headquarters from Melbourne to Brisbane, and on July 20 he commandeered the AMP Society Building in downtown Brisbane for American usage.

The basement of the AMP building was fitted out with communication equipment of the latest type and a radio station was established on the western edge of Brisbane, the state capital for Queensland.  Two tracts of land were procured, half a dozen acres at Hemmant and a smaller property six miles distant at Capalaba. 

The transmitter station consisted of two buildings, a large T shaped transmitter hall and a smaller generator building.  The antenna system, beamed to the United States, was made up of rhombics mounted on towers 100 ft. high.  The program feed came in on cable from the teletype printers in the AMP building five miles distant.

According to a report as found on the Internet at home.st.net.au, there was a Press Wireless Shifter Unit at this transmitter station which converted teletype signals into radio signals, and this electronic information was then fed into a 1 kw. Federal Transmitter type BC339K which was then fed into a 10 kw. Colonial amplifier.  However, in a report on the work of the United States 999th Signal Company in France, it is stated that there was also a 40 kw. Press Wireless transmitter in this facility in suburban Brisbane and that it was installed by servicemen who were trained on a similar unit at the Press Wireless station located at Hicksville on New York’s Long Island.  The power generator at Hemmant was a 250 kw. Buckeye, so it is evident that this American radio station could readily support multiple transmitters.

The receiver station was a smaller building with a Wilcox receiver and teletype equipment.  A Cummins diesel provided emergency power when needed.  This
station was used for receiving communications from Washington, DC and for listening to coded messages from the islands north of Australia.

On August 26, 1946, both the transmitting and receiving stations were taken over by the PMG Dept. in Australia and the facility was used for shortwave communications and for frequency measurement of Australian mediumwave stations.

Interestingly, two of Brisbane’s mediumwave stations were on the air from a radio tower that was located very close to the American radio station.  These were the commercial station 4KQ which subsequently transferred to St. Helena Island, and public broadcaster 4RPH during an interim emergency period.

The Hemmant land was later bought by a commercial company, and it is now owned privately as a family home.  The Capalaba land is now in use regionally as an Air Navigation Station.

Well, there it is!  You have just heard the story of two radio stations established by the Americans in continental Australia.  One was installed for use on the railway system though it was never placed into actual usage, and the other was a substantial station in use for a period of nearly four years with international communications.  There are no known reports in any radio magazines of the monitoring of these stations; they came, they worked, and then they were silenced.  QSLs?  Impossible!

Wavescan, July 29, 2007
Radio Broadcasting in Malaysian Borneo Sarawak

The Malaysian state of Sarawak occupies much of the northwest territory on the island of Borneo.  It is about 400 miles long and 100 miles wide with a population of about one and a half million.  The small capital city is Kuching which is located almost at the bottom end of the state.  Sarawak is home to several unique life forms in the natural world, such as the proboscis monkey with its strange floppy nose, the bearded pig, and the world’s largest flower.  The Rafflesia in full bloom is more than three feet wide.

It was back in the year 1914 that work commenced on the installation of two dozen spark wireless stations throughout the British territory of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.  It was intended that these stations could inter-communicate with each other, though their main flow of communications would be to the headquarters station at Kuching which in turn would pass its messages on to the main station in Singapore.  The callsigns of the stations in Sarawak were in the series VQA to VQZ, with additional callsigns in the VS series.  The main station at the capital city Kuching was licensed with the callsign VQF and it was to communicate internally with the stations throughout Sarawak and with VPW in Singapore.

However, work on the entire network in Sarawak was suspended towards the end of the year 1914 and completion of the project was thus delayed for nearly three years.  In 1917, the French took over this communication project, though the total number of stations that were completed throughout Sarawak was considerably reduced.  The main station, VQF, was installed at Stapok on the edge of the capital city Kuching, and it became operational in 1917.       

Regional stations at Sibu (VQV), Miri (VQP) and Simunjan (VSV) were also completed by the French in 1917 and each station was similar in design and equipment.  The spark transmitters were the same design as those that were installed on French navy vessels and they were rated at a power of 4 kw.  The antenna system was described as a T type, centre fed, single wire, suspended between two tall masts.  All stations worked on the longwave channel 1800 metres, corresponding to 167 kHz.

Radio broadcasting did not come to Sarawak until nearly a quarter of a century later and by this time the spark transmitters in the communication stations had been replaced by valve transmitters.  It was in March 1941 that an introductory broadcast service was launched over the Kuching station and it was on the air shortwave every Saturday evening for just one hour.  This transmission over station VQF was noted at times in Australia and New Zealand on 6985 kHz. 

When the Japanese administration took over Kuching in December 1941, they re-activated the nearby radio station and it was noted on the air as VQF for somewhere around three years.  And again, the British re-activated station VQF in September 1945 under the same callsign VQF2 and on the same shortwave channel 6985 kHz.

However, the time had come for the establishment of a regular radio broadcasting service in Sarawak and so the BBC in London was invited to perform a “Planning Survey” which began its task early in the year 1951.  Upon the recommendations from the BBC personnel, plans were made to inaugurate a regular broadcasting service from Kuching using mediumwave for local coverage and shortwave for regional coverage.

The new radio station, located nearby at Rock Hill, was officially opened on June 7, 1954 with the use of two new Marconi transmitters, mediumwave 850 kHz and shortwave 4860 kHz, both at 5 kw.  This opening broadcast was heard in Australia, and probably in New Zealand also.  Spasmodic broadcasts were noted occasionally from both transmitters, though a continuing series of test transmissions did not begin for another two and a half years, in January 1957.  This new radio broadcasting service was officially inaugurated one year later again as Radio Sarawak in April 1958.

The political circumstances were changing and on September 16, 1963, the separated territories in Borneo and Malaya were conjoined into Malaysia.  Thus it
was that Radio Sarawak became Radio Malaysia Sarawak on that date.  Soon afterwards, work began on the upgrading of the radio station at Stapok, Kuching.  A new transmitter hall was built and nine transmitters were installed, together with a tall transmission tower, 450 ft. high.  At this stage, there were four program channels on the air from Kuching, two in each of the main language streams, and each was also on the air with two shortwave units in parallel.  

In the mid 1960s, plans were announced for an increase in power for the shortwave transmitters and shortly thereafter all channels at Kuching Stapok were shown as capable for either 20 kw. and 10 kw.  However, as time went by the usage of the full complement of shortwave transmitters began to dwindle.   Over a period of some thirty years or more, malfunctions occurred on aging equipment and FM services were introduced along with television.  These days only four shortwave channels are listed for Kuching Stapok, and one of these is shown as inactive.   

Interestingly though, at the turn of the century a 100 kw. shortwave transmitter was installed near Kuching in order to provide wide-area radio coverage to the entire island of Borneo and beyond.  This unit operates at times on 7270 kHz.

Beginning in the early 1970s, work commenced on the development of two regional shortwave stations, one at Sibu and the other at Miri.  A total of three transmitters were installed at each location, two mediumwave at 20 kw. and one shortwave at 10 kw.  The new Sibu facility was officially opened on December 7, 1974, and the new Miri facility was officially opened on September 2, 1975.  An additional 10 kw. shortwave transmitter was installed at each location shortly afterwards.

However, as time went by the usage of these shortwave units has diminished, due mainly to aging equipment in a tropical climate.  Sibu is shown these days with only one channel on shortwave, 6050 kHz; and Miri has been off the air shortwave for half a dozen years or more.  Interestingly though, a government official in Sarawak announced recently that two new shortwave transmitters will be installed soon, one as a replacement unit at Sibu and the other at a new location Sarikei, which is actually quite close to Sibu.

Over the years, numerous QSL cards have been issued from the three shortwave radio stations in Sarawak, Kuching, Sibu and Miri, and we are holding more than a score of these valuable historic items, either as original cards or copies.  The QSL cards issued by Radio Sarawak Kuching before federation into Malaysia are these days quite rare.  There are no known QSLs from this station under the Japanese administration in the 1940s.

Maybe you should try to log Radio TV Malaysia Sarawak on shortwave and obtain your QSL card.  Another good opportunity should occur when the two new shortwave transmitters come onto the air, perhaps next year.