"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, Sept. 30, 2007
Radio Broadcasting in Independent Borneo - Brunei
The history of the independent enclave on the northwestern edge of the island of Borneo, Brunei, goes way back more than two and a half centuries to the time in the 700s BC when migrant tribes from Vietnam left their ancestral homes and wandered across ocean and island until they came to the island that we know now as Borneo. More than a thousand years later, the land surrounding the Brunei estuary became a trading post with Chinese participation. After that, the area around Brunei was ruled from afar by the Hindu Kingdom located on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Then, in the 1300s, the Sultan of Brunei ruled the neighboring areas, including all of the island of Borneo and up into the southern islands of the Philippines.
The modern era for Brunei began in 1839 when Englishman James Brooke arrived in neighboring Sarawak and afterwards became their ruling Rajah. In 1888 Brunei became a British protectorate, and beginning in 1906, Brunei was governed with a local British Resident.
On January 2, 1942, the Japanese landed in Brunei, which they occupied for more than three years. In 1945, Australian forces made a return invasion; and fourteen years later, Brunei was granted limited autonomy as a self ruling state. At the time when the Union of Malaysia was formed, Brunei opted for independence, and this was implemented on January 1, 1984.
The independent British country of Brunei is actually composed of two sections, separated by about five intervening miles of the Malaysian territory of Sarawak. The total population is no more than one third of a million; the small capital city with the long name is Banda Seri Begawan with a population of 50,000; and half of their Gross National Product is derived from the export of petroleum and natural gas. In fact, there is no personal income tax in Brunei.
Two items of interest: Brunei owns four cattle stations in the Northern Territory of Australia to ensure a regular supply of beef products and the total area of these cattle farms is actually larger than the country of Brunei itself. And, the name of the island of Borneo is derived from the name of this state, Brunei.
The first wireless station in Brunei was a spark gap Morse Code facility that was erected in Brunei Town, as it was known then, in the year 1920. This station was established for the purpose of communication with a similar station located on the island of Labuan that is now understood to be a part of Malaysian Sabah. Two more Morse Code wireless stations were established in 1922 and these were located at Brooketown-Muara on the tip of the small northern peninsula, and at Temburong in East Brunei. The fourth wireless station was established at Belait in the southern coastal area in 1925. Just two of these stations survived and they were identified as VSJ in West Brunei and VSL in East Brunei.
As far as radio broadcasting is concerned, the earliest beginnings go back to the year 1947 when the Marconi Company in England installed a new wireless communication station in Brunei Town. Ten years later, the Marconi Company founded a small experimental radio broadcasting station in a small one storied building, with a single on air studio and a single mediumwave transmitter. This new and rather experimental station made its inaugural broadcast fifteen months later, in August 1958.
The 1959 edition of the World Radio TV Handbook listed Brunei for the first time and it showed two mediumwave stations on the air; 2 kW in Brunei Town on the north coast and 20 kW in Tutong in the central coast. Interestingly, both stations operated on the same channel, 1240 kHz.
However, in the following year, 1960, three mediumwave stations were on the air; Brunei Town with the original three year old 1.5 kW transmitter now on 970 kHz, the 20 kW transmitter at Tutong on the same 1240 kHz, and an additional station at 1.5 kW on 1110 kHz at Belait on the south coast.
Over the next half century, several new mediumwave stations were constructed, transmitters changed locations and frequencies, and new higher powered units for local coverage were employed. In fact, at the height of its activity, Brunei was on the air from seven different mediumwave transmitters at five different locations. Two of these high powered units were installed in 1977 for national and regional international coverage. The 100 kW station (later 200 kW) on 675 kHz was installed at Serasa, and the 200 kW unit on 594 kHz was installed at Tutong. Both of these high powered units could be heard quite clearly in the neighboring Malaysian and Indonesian states on the island of Borneo and beyond. It is understood that both of these 200 kW units were shut down a year or two ago, though they could be re-activated if necessary.
For total local radio coverage throughout Brunei, several FM networks are now on the air. Their modernized studio building, located across from the Post Office in Banda Seri Begawan, was erected in the 1960s. It contains a suite of 18 studios for the production of the various language and program streams.
Before leaving the local radio scene in Brunei, we should make mention of BFBS, the British Forces Broadcasting Service. They trace their earliest origins back to the year 1964 when a daily one hour program in English and the Gurkhali language was introduced into the program format of Radio Brunei mediumwave. This service was on the air from Radio Brunei for a period of nearly thirty five years, ending in 1997. It was heard throughout the nation on as many as six channels, mediumwave, FM, and shortwave. This program service was presented for the benefit of British troops stationed in Brunei, many of whom were Nepali and spoke the Gurkhali language.
A small volunteer radio station was constructed at the British armybase at Seria on the south coast and it was on the air unofficially for a short period of time before BFBS took it over in 1978 and administered it from BFBS Hong Kong. This station was officially opened with its own facilities on March 8, 1979. It has always operated on FM, usually with two channels, one in English and the other in Gurkhali.
On the shortwave scene, Radio Brunei was once a highly sought after prize. In 1964, a 10 kW transmitter was inaugurated at the mediumwave facility located at Berakas on the edge of their capital city. This unit carried a relay from the various mediumwave services and always on the fixed frequency, 4865 kHz, in the tropical 60 metre band. Five years later, another 10 kW shortwave transmitter was co-sited with the mediumwave transmitter at Tutong on the central coast. This second unit also carried a relay from the mediumwave programming that was produced in the main studios in the capital city and always on the fixed frequency 7215 kHz in the 41 metre international band.
According to tabulated information extracted from the World Radio TV Handbook, the second shortwave transmitter was transferred from Tutong on the central coast and re-installed at Berakas near the capital city in 1977. However, both shortwave transmitters left the air, according to WRTVHB entries, in the year 1979. Some twenty years later, Radio Brunei made the statement that they did plan to return to the shortwave scene sometime, but, alas, that event has never been fulfilled.
We might also add, that the BFBS twin language program service that was carried nationwide on mediumwave by Radio Brunei was also heard on shortwave. According to the available schedules, the BFBS relay on shortwave began in 1965 on 4865 kHz, and in 1969 this service was then heard on 7215 kHz. This regular BFBS relay was on shortwave came to an end when the shortwave transmitters left the air in 1979.
As far as QSLs are concerned, the exotic card from Radio Brunei has always been a highly prized collector's item. For the first five years, Radio Brunei verified by letter. Beginning in 1964, they issued a card that showed a map of Borneo and a Mosque, printed in yellow and green. However, in the late 1970s, they issued a new card that showed a photo of the capital city taken from the air with a map of Brunei superimposed.
The supply of those cards has also been exhausted. In the year 2001, I made an itinerary on behalf of Adventist World Radio to Kota Kinabalu in the neighboring Malaysian state of Sabah and while there I logged the two mediumwave outlets of Radio Brunei on 594 and 675 kHz. The QSL that I received from Radio Brunei, verifying these two reports, was an AWR card that I had enclosed with the reports that was filled in by Radio Brunei with the reception report details.
Wavescan, Sept. 30, 2007
TheAmerican Radio Stations in Australia VLC Shepparton
As was stated on a previous occasion, almost one dozen American radio stations have been established in Australia over the past half century. The first of this slew of interesting and sometimes unusual stations was installed in a country area in Victoria mid-century. It was a shortwave unit and it carried specific programming on relay from the United States beamed to the Philippines. This is what happened.
Back in the year 1937, the Australian government announced that they planned on establishing a major shortwave station in Australia, similar to the recently established BBC facility located near Daventry in England. This new Daventry station was inaugurated in 1932 with two shortwave transmitters at 10 kW each. However, by the time Australia was looking at a similar possibility, the Daventry station was on the air with three shortwave transmitters, each rated at around 50 kW.
During the year 1939, with major political changes looming on the horizon in continental Europe, the projected new shortwave station in Australia was now looked upon as a high priority project for possible use as a replacement for Daventry if necessary. Serious site searches were conducted throughout Eastern Australia at several different locations, and possible locations under consideration included Sydenham near Melbourne in Victoria (with its two new ABC mediumwave stations 3LO and 3AR); Liverpool near Sydney in New South Wales (with its two new ABC mediumwave stations 2FC and 2BL); and Lyndhurst near Melbourne in Victoria (with its single shortwave transmitter VLR). Interestingly at this time, the Australian government was already in the process of constructing a large new shortwave station at Belconnen near Canberra, and it was rumored that this was Australia's new shortwave broadcasting station. However, this was not the case, it was instead a shortwave communication station for the use of the Australian navy.
Ultimately, the final choice for Australia's new shortwave voice was a totally new location, out in a country area near Shepparton in central Victoria. This was a large property of 567 acres, a dozen miles from Shepparton and 120 miles from Melbourne.
Site preparation for this large new international broadcasting station, which included the construction of a large bombproof transmitter hall and the erection of a bevy of curtain and rhombic antennas, began in 1942. One year later, the Transmitter Hall was completed and ready for use; but, where were the new shortwave transmitters? The original concept envisaged the installation of three transmitters in this new facility, two at 100 kW and one at 50 kW. These units would be identified with the Australian callsigns, VLA, VLC and VLM.
At this stage and as a joint project, STC and AWA in suburban Sydney were designing and building two transmitters at 100 kW and these were subsequently installed in Shepparton three years later and given the callsigns VLA and VLB. A worldwide search was to no avail, and even though the facility was ready for use, minus its transmitters, by February 1943, yet it remained empty for another year.
Finally, a 50 kW transmitter became available in the United States. This was an RCA unit, originally intended for use at a now unknown location somewhere else, and it was made available for installation in Australia under the Lend-Lease Agreement. This agreement stipulated that the transmitter should relay specific programming from the United States to the Philippines. In fact, when this new station first went on the air, identification announcements stated that it was operating from "General MacArthur's Headquarters" in Australia. This station was also known for a short while as ABSIA, the American Broadcasting Station in Australia, somewhat reminiscent of a similar station in England, which identified as ABSIE, the American Broadcasting Station in Europe.
Installation at Shepparton for the new 50 kW RCA transmitter began in February 1944 and it was ready for part time usage by the end of April. On May 1, 1944, this unit came into a limited daily usage on 9680 kHz under the callsign VLC2 with the relay of the American program, "Philippine Hour." This program, one hour in duration, was on the air daily at 7 pm, EAST, Eastern Australian Standard Time. Transmitter VLC was taken into full time regular usage nearly four months later on August 25, with the multi-language programming of "Australia Calling," as well as with the VOA-OWI program, "The Philippine Hour."
Interestingly, the location of this new shortwave station was not publicly revealed for nearly half a year. Initially, the identification announcements stated simply that it was on the air from General MacArthur's Headquarters in Australia. It was not until the following October that radio publications clearly stated that transmitter VLC was located at Shepparton in Victoria.
Actually, it was back in mid 1942 that regular programming from the United States began to appear on radio stations in Australia. It is safe to say that every radio station in Australia, ABC and commercial, mediumwave and shortwave, carried American programming on many occasions during the critical years of the Pacific Conflict. The first of these American programs was titled "American News" and it was a daily ten minute bulletin of news that was on the air from 2FC in Sydney and all of the nationwide stations in the ABC National Network.
Early in the following year, an additional American program under the title "America Speaks with Pearl Buck" was broadcast over the same ABC networks. This new Pearl Buck program was also ten minutes in duration. Shortly afterwards, the Sunday edition of "American News" was expanded to half an hour in duration with the addition of American music and sports results. Each of these American radio programs was also relayed on shortwave by the ABC Home Service shortwave transmitters that were scheduled to be on the air at the time. These shortwave units were 2 kW VLR in Lyndhurst, 10 kW VLG also in Lyndhurst, 10 kW VLQ at Bald Hills in Queensland, and 2 kW VLW at Wanneroo in Western Australia.
Beginning in December 1942, "Australia Calling" as Radio Australia was known at the time, beamed a program on shortwave to the United States under the title, "The American Program." This daily broadcast was half an hour in duration and it was transmitted on VLQ Pennant Hills near Sydney and VLG Lyndhurst near Melbourne in Victoria. This new program presented Australian and South Pacific news and information that would be of interest to Americans and it was beamed to California where it was picked up live off air for relay by the nationwide mediumwave networks in the United States.
As mentioned previously, the relay broadcast of the "Philippine Hour" began on May 1, 1944. It was always an evening broadcast, at both the transmitter location as well as in the Philippine target area. However, at the orders of General MacArthur, additional sessions were beamed to the Philippines from transmitter VLC for two days in early June. These broadcasts, in which updated news about D-Day in Europe was presented, went out over VLC4 on 15315 kHz and VLC2 on 9680 kHz on June 7 and 8, in the morning, midday, afternoon and evening sessions.
Around about this time, General MacArthur also directed that there should also be a morning broadcast beamed to the Philippines from Australia. This new fifteen minute news program was first noted by international radio monitors in Australia in September and it was carried on VLC4 15315 kHz at 10 am.
The OWI-VOA broadcasts to the Philippines over VLC lasted for just one year. In May of the following year, 1945, both American programs were dropped by VLC. By this time, the "Philippine Hour" was already on the air from the 10 kW transmitter, WVLC, aboard the renovated radio ship, the "Apache." At this stage, the "Apache" was located in waters adjacent to the Philippine Islands and the shortwave transmitter gave nice coverage to the entire archipelago.
So, what happened then to transmitter VLC after its usage as a relay station on behalf of OWI-VOA was concluded? In those days, all of the ABC transmitter facilities, including shortwave "Australia Calling," were maintained by the PMG Department and the programming was prepared by the ABC and landlined to each specific transmitter.
Soon after VLC became airborne, the ABC in Melbourne began to phase in their "Australia Calling" programming and at the end of the first year of on air usage when the American programming beamed to the Philippines was concluded, this shortwave unit carried a full schedule on behalf of "Australia Calling".
During a renovation program at Shepparton some thirteen years after its inauguration, the American transmitter VLC was bifurcated into two units, both at 50 kW. Twelve years later again, these two units were rebuilt for an additional spate of on air service. Ultimately, at the age of almost forty, these two RCA 50 kW transmitters were finally removed and discarded in 1983. They were replaced by two Harris units at 100 kW each.
Thus it was that the 50 kW American RCA transmitter VLC served as a relay station in Australia for American VOA-OWI programming for a period of just one year, beginning in mid 1944. In 1957 it gave birth to a twin unit rated at 50 kW, in 1969 both units were rebuilt, and in 1983 they were finally discarded at the end of forty years of on air service.
Throughout all of these years a multitude of QSL cards and letters were issued by the ABC, Radio Australia and the Australian Department of Information to verify the reception of radio station VLC. However, there is just one known QSL that was issued by the American Office of War Information to verify the reception of their "Philippine Hour" on relay over VLC, their own shortwave transmitter in Australia.
For a period of a little over three years, running from early 1942 until mid 1945, the California based OWI, Office of War Information, established a branch office in the AWA building in York Street, Sydney. This Australian office employed Mr. L. J. Keast, who was already the DX editor for the Sydney based "Australian Radio World," as a part time international radio monitor. It is suggested, that this only known QSL for the American programming over VLC was issued through his auspices. This QSL is thought to be a letter and it was issued to Owen Rogers of Onehunga in New Zealand for his reception report on VLC2 on 9680 kHz soon after this unique radio transmitter was inaugurated back in the year 1944.