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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, December 20, 2009

Radio Australia Anniversary - Wanneroo

It was exactly 70 years ago, to the very day, that Australia Calling was launched by the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Robert Menzies. In later times, Mr. Menzies was knighted and became Sir Robert Menzies, and Australia Calling was re-designated as Radio Australia.

At the time of its inauguration on Wednesday, December 20, 1939, Mr. Menzies was celebrating his 45th birthday during his first term as prime minister; and Australia Calling was on the air from just three shortwave transmitters at two different locations; two at 10 kW at Pennant Hills in New South Wales, and one at 2 kW at Lyndhurst in Victoria.

During the following month, preliminary test broadcasts began from a 4th transmitter, again just 2 kW, at a 3rd location, Wanneroo in Western Australia. This then is the story of Radio Australia Wanneroo, and we present this information here in this edition of Wavescan in honor of Radio Australia's 70th anniversary.

It was back in the year 1932 that the PMG Dept. procured the Wanneroo property on the northern edge of the state capital, Perth, for the purpose of establishing a new radio broadcasting station. At the end of the year, the eight year old mediumwave station 6WF, located on the top of a commercial building in downtown Perth, was retired and a new 5 kW transmitter for this ABC service was installed at Wanneroo.

In 1938, work commenced at Wanneroo for the installation of two additional broadcast transmitters, one mediumwave and one shortwave. The one year old mediumwave 6WN was transferred from the city post office building to Wanneroo, and a new shortwave transmitter, VLW, was installed for coverage of outback areas in Western Australia.

The earliest known test broadcast from the new shortwave station VLW was noted in the United States on 7170 kHz in September 1939. However, with the inauguration of Australia Calling, plans were laid for the incorporation of this new unit on the west coast of the continent into part time usage for programming beamed to South Africa and the islands of Indonesia.

Additional test broadcasts from VLW were noted in Australia and New Zealand during the following weeks, and, in the New Year 1940, test broadcasts were beamed specifically towards Africa. This transmitter was officially taken into the programming service of Australia Calling on April 7, 1940, with programming in both English and Afrikaans.

Interestingly, two sets of callsigns were in use from this low powered transmitter. One set of numeric designators was in use for the ABC outback service in Western Australia, and another set for the overseas service from Australia Calling. For example:

VLW2 was in use with ABC programming on 9615 kHz
VLW2 was in use with Australia Calling 9650 kHz

The initial series of broadcasts beamed to Africa from VLW with a relay of programming from Radio Australia in Melbourne lasted for less than a year. However, a new service in the Malay language for the Asian islands north of Australia was introduced in October 1941, though this service too was soon afterwards terminated.

In 1945, the 2 kW VLW was dropped completely from Radio Australia programming and these program services were transferred to the three new high powered shortwave transmitters located at Shepparton in Victoria. Transmitter VLW was now on the air exclusively with the ABC regional service to the outback.

In 1959, work commenced on a new transmitter building at Wanneroo in which several new mediumwave and shortwave transmitters were installed. These new units, three shortwave and four mediumwave ranging in power from 2 kW to 50 kW, were taken into full service in 1962.

In 1963, a series of test broadcasts at 50 kW were beamed to Africa from Wanneroo; six years later another series of broadcasts were beamed to Africa using two transmitters at 10 kW; and in 1983, there was a series of test broadcasts lasting three days beamed to Africa.

In 1984, there was a series of test broadcasts directed to Antarctica using a 10 kW transmitter and back radiation from a rhombic antenna beamed to the Kimberly region in Western Australia. Programming was in English and French with a relay from Radio France International in Paris.

The shortwave transmitters at Wanneroo were in use for international and outback Australian coverage for some 55 years, but they are silent now. These units were withdrawn from service and closed down in 1994. During their more than half a century of service, they were on the air with programming for the outback from the ABC in Perth, and with a relay from Radio Australia beamed to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Antarctica.

On this occasion today, we salute Radio Australia for their 70 years of on air service, which included the initial usage of the small 2 kW shortwave transmitter VLW located at Wanneroo near Perth in Western Australia. QSL cards for this unique shortwave service during its initial one year period were issued from the ABC headquarters in Sydney Australia and these QSLs were the early version of the orange colored card featuring the wild kangaroo.

Pitcairn Island - Callsigns & QSL Cards

On four occasions in recent times here in Wavescan, we have presented special features about radio broadcasting on Pitcairn Island, way out there in the center of the South Pacific. Since then, a very interesting item of information that answers a previously unanswered question has been discovered among the many items of Pitcairn memorabilia provided by John Scuddas here in the United States.

This interesting information is found in a two page article written by Dorothy Hall, W2IXY, and printed in the British radio magazine, "T & R Bulletin," dated December 1938. It is remembered that Dorothy Hall in New York City made frequent radio contact with Pitcairn during this era.

Back there in the years 1938 and 1939, three different styles of QSL cards were issued to verify the reception of transmissions from the station that was variously identified on air as PITC, VR6A and VR6AY. The callsign PITC was in use for the relay of broadcast programming to the RCA station KKW located at Bolinas in California, and the callsigns VR6A and VR6AY were in use for amateur radio QSO contacts.

The first QSL card showed a map of the Pacific with Pitcairn highlighted, and also a photograph of the radio equipment that was exported from the United States to Pitcairn Island. The callsign was printed in large red letters and it showed VR6A.

The next QSL card issued from Pitcairn was actually this same card, but with the letter "Y" handwritten at the end of the callsign, thus identifying the station as VR6AY.

The third QSL card issued from Pitcairn was a re-printing of the original card, with a slight re-alignment of the text on the address side of the card, and the listing of the callsign as VR6AY. The final letter "Y" was added at the time of printing.

However, the question that has caught the interest of the radio world, is this: Why the change in callsign? What was happening back there more than half a century ago?

The most common answer was that the first printing of this QSL card contained a printing error, and that the second printing corrected the mistake by adding the letter "Y" at the end of the callsign. However, further information demonstrates that this answer is incorrect. This is what really happened.

When the radio pioneers Granville Lindley and Lewis Bellem visited Pitcairn Island for the purpose of establishing the 60 watt shortwave station, they also took with them 1,000 generic QSL cards that would be used to verify the reception of this new amateur radio broadcasting station. The callsign on this card was printed as VR6A, without the final "Y."

The supply of these QSL cards was soon used up, and so another batch of 5,000 cards was printed, with a slight re-adjustment of the text on the address side, and the identification of the station as VR6AY, including the final "Y."

The magazine article by Dorothy Hall states that the Pitcairn station PITC made its inaugural transmission on March 5, 1938, as VR6A. It would appear that the callsign, VR6A, identified Pitcairn Radio as, for example, the first station on the island. However, at this stage, it was without a license, and as the article states, "panicky engineers" in the United States ordered the station off the air until the license situation was clarified.

Radio station PITC-VR6A was off the air until the legal paper work arrived, and it was re-launched in early April as VR6AY, with the last two letters of the callsign as the initials of the local operator, Andrew Young.

The first QSL card, as VR6A without a hand written alteration, is nowadays quite rare, though a few were issued for the original brief period of on air activity. We hold one QSL card of this nature, without the handwritten alteration.

We also hold as well one amateur card from Canada and a letter from an amateur operator in the United States, which confirm QSO contacts on March 8, 1938, during the four day era of its unlicensed operation before the station was temporarily closed.

The second QSL card issued from Pitcairn is actually the same card, but with the letter "Y" added in hand writing at the end of the callsign. This card is more common these days.

The third QSL card, which was actually the second print run, contains the full callsign as VR6AY. This card was used to confirm QSO contacts, and operations as a broadcast program provider, and also as a tourist souvenir, until the complete stock was depleted. This card is these days the most common. Thus far, we have not seen one of these QSL cards confirming a broadcast transmission under the commercial callsign PITC.

Thus, the reason for the change of callsign on these QSL cards was not because of a printing error as previously thought, but because the paperwork had not arrived. When the paperwork did arrive, it was an amateur license for Andrew Young, with the callsign VR6AY.