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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, June 12, 2011

Australia on Longwave, Part 1: Yes, it did really happen!

Recently, an international radio enthusiast made a request, and he asked us to produce a story in Wavescan on the topic of longwave broadcasting in Australia. We have researched this topic in depth, and as a result, we plan to present two feature items on this subject; one this week and another in two week's time. So, this week, we go way back to the beginning and we present the story of the early wireless stations on the Australian continent, and their involvement in the radio broadcasting scene.

It was in the year 1901 that Marconi in England made contact with the Australian government with a proposal to connect Australia and New Zealand by wireless, but his suggestion was met with official skepticism. Five years later, Marconi sent two of his engineers to Australia and they installed two temporary wireless stations on the edge of Bass Strait, one in Victoria and the other across 200 miles of water in Tasmania.

On July 12, 1906, successful wireless contact by Morse Code was established between Queenscliff in Victoria and East Devonport in Tasmania. This was a gala day, with much of Federal Parliament in Melbourne closed for the occasion, and an exchange of official messages between the Governor-General of Australia and the state governor in Tasmania. Still no further wireless progress on the part of the Australian government.

However in 1909, with the political stance in Europe beginning to bristle, the Australian government began to take a real interest in the possibilities of wireless, and consideration was given to establishing a whole network of spark wireless stations around the continental coastline. The British navy recommended a total of 16 coastal stations, and construction work began in 1911.

In the meantime, a commercially operated temporary coastal wireless service was established at the Bulletin newspaper office in Sydney under the callsign ATY. This station began service on August 27, 1910, with the use of a 2-1/2 kW German Telefunken transmitter made available by the newly formed Australasian Wireless Company.

During the following year, this coastal wireless station ATY was transferred into the Hotel Australia, with a new callsign AAA. This new facility was installed on the 6th floor of what was considered to be the biggest and best hotel in Australia at that time, though this location for a wireless station was also understood to be temporary. One year later, station AAA was replaced by the well known AWA station at Pennant Hills, though AAA was still in occasional usage for a while afterwards.

Another temporary wireless station during this era was established by a Catholic priest, Father Archibald Shaw. He had established his own wireless manufacturing facility in suburban Sydney, and in order to demonstrate his system of wireless telegraphy, he installed a wireless station on King Island, off the northwest coast of Tasmania, under the callsign VZE, in 1911.

The first station in the government network, now increased to 19 stations, was installed at the Domain in Melbourne and it was taken into service on February 8, 1912. The initial callsign was projected as AAM, though this was changed to POM before the station was opened. Subsequently, under new international regulations, the call was amended to the more familiar VIM.

In rapid succession, six more stations were installed throughout Australia during the same year 1912, and these included all state capital cities, and also Macquarie Island down near Antarctica.

During the following year, another ten wireless stations were installed, at regional coastal locations on the mainland, and also on two nearby islands; on Thursday Island at the northern tip of York Peninsula in Queensland under the callsign VII, and on Flinders Island near northeast Tasmania under the callsign VIL. The year 1914 saw the installation of three more of these regional wireless stations, two on the Western Australian coastline, and also VIK on King Island as a government replacement for the Shaw station VZE.

The system of callsigns for all of these coastal wireless stations was projected originally as a three letter combination beginning with PO, indicating Post Office, and the 3rd letter indicating the actual location. However, soon after the first few stations were launched, the first two letters were changed to VI under a new international wireless agreement, though the 3rd letter remained the same. Thus for example, POM and then VIM for Melbourne, POA and then VIA for Adelaide, and POB then VIB for Brisbane.

The wireless equipment at these early coastal stations consisted of a spark wireless transmitter, usually Telefunken from Germany, and a crystal set receiver. After the conclusion of the First World War, valve, or tube equipment, was installed at each of these stations, and as was the custom in those days, test broadcasts were made with speech, and sometimes music.

As far as broadcasting is concerned, it would be safe to say that every one of these coastal stations made speech and perhaps even music broadcasts at some time or another, and they also radiated time signals for the benefit of passing shipping, and on subsequent occasions, they broadcast bulletins of weather information. In the early 1920s, these program broadcasts were made on longwave channels, though subsequently, mediumwave and then lower frequency shortwave bands were in use.

The Melbourne station VIM was noted over a period of time with probably more broadcast programming than any of the other coastal stations. In July 1922 for example, station VIM was noted by international radio monitors of that era with occasional broadcasts of recorded music.

In an endeavor to impress the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Billy Hughes, station VIM broadcast a speech he made in the Town Hall in the regional city of Bendigo in Victoria. There was no landline capability at the time, back in the year 1922, so a temporary transmitter was installed in the Town Hall, and a receiver in Melbourne picked up the speech and rebroadcast it over the coastal communication station VIM.

On another occasion during the same year, Prime Minister Hughes was making a sea voyage from Melbourne to Sydney on board the SS Karoola. Station VIM made a special broadcast to the Prime Minister on board the ship, with farewell messages from his wife Mary, and their six year old daughter Helen.

It was in this same year, 1922, that station VIM conducted Morse Code test broadcasts on behalf of the Metropolitan Police as a preliminary to establishing a police radio system.

During the year 1925, stations VIS Sydney, VIP Perth and VID Darwin introduced a Wireless News Service for shipping in Morse Code; and in 1928 VIS began the broadcast twice daily of weather bulletins. In 1943 for example, station VIB in Brisbane introduced the broadcast twice daily of time signals from the ABC mediumwave network.

That's all for this occasion; but remember, we will present additional information about longwave broadcasting in Australia here in Wavescan in two week's time.