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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 N304, December 21, 2014

Christmas Island Adventure - 2: The Radio Broadcasting Scene

Here in Wavescan last week, we presented the story of the early wireless and radio years on Christmas Island, the Australian island in the Indian Ocean. That topic took us up to the war years in the middle of last century. In our program today, we continue this Christmas Island saga with information subsequent to the war years, and in particular, the radio broadcasting scene on this lonely and isolated island.

The Australian Christmas Island lies off the coast of Indonesia, some 300 miles south of the island of Java. The only radio station on Christmas Island at the time of the Pacific War was destroyed in the Japanese invasion in 1942. Perhaps the Japanese also installed a wireless communication station on the island during their more than three years of occupation, though there is no known information regarding this possibility.

In the developmental years after the end of World War 2, a new communication station was installed on Christmas Island, though dates and information are uncertain. Perhaps it was under the British after the war, or perhaps it was under the Australians after the island was transferred to Australian jurisdiction in 1957.

However, when the new station was installed, it was still in some way associated with the British Phosphate Commission, though the known callsign was not a British callsign, but rather an Australian callsign towards the end of the VL series, VLU. In 1960, the British Phosphate callsign for shipping was also an Australian callsign, towards the end of the VI series, VIY. This callsign VIY had been in use a hundred years earlier for a spark wireless station located at Mt. Gambier in South Australia.

According to a report in the October 1961 issue of the Australian monthly magazine, Radio & Hobbies, the Voice of America conducted a feasibility test transmission on Christmas Island in an endeavor to ascertain the suitability of the location for a large shortwave station to broadcast into Asia.

This report came from the noted international radio monitor in New Zealand, Arthur Cushen. However, though this short report seems to indicate that transmission tests were made, it is not known as to whether the Voice of America imported their own transmitter for the tests, or whether the available low powered VLU was used for this purpose.

In 1965, the resident Communication Engineer diverted the usage of a radio-telephone communication transmitter and he broadcast music and information for the benefit of local residents. Initially this program service in the mediumwave band was on the air without callsign.

On September 1, 1967, the radio broadcasting service was officially inaugurated under the subsidiary callsign VLU2, with 500 watts on 1420 kHz. Apparently a new transmitter was installed for this purpose.

Programming was in three languages: English, Malay and Chinese. Usually the transmitter was left on the air with an open carrier outside programming hours so that local residents could be alerted to any important information, including shipping and aircraft movements.

A new solid state transmitter was installed in 1978, with three units at 125 kHz each. Any two of these units could be combined to provide an output power of 250 watts. In November of that same year (1978), the VLU2 transmitter was modified to conform to the new international 9 kHz spacing, and the operating frequency was changed from 1420 kHz to 1422 kHz.

Over the years, station VLU2 has also relayed programming from the BBC London, Radio Australia Melbourne, ABC Local Radio, and Radio Singapore International. All of these program relays were taken live off the air shortwave. Back at that time, the Radio Australia relay station near Carnarvon in Western Australia propagated an excellent signal into Christmas Island, and likewise the old regional shortwave station VLW at Wanneroo could also be heard at a good level on the island.

The VLU2 entries in the World Radio TV Handbook indicate that the studios of the local mediumwave station have always been located at Lower Drumsite, and the transmitter at Phosphate Hill, both sites quite near to the main settlements at the north coast of the island. The studios and offices for mediumwave VLU2 are located in the Radio Building on Murray Road.

Interestingly, there was one attempt at a shortwave relay from Christmas Island, and this took place under the concept of a Nordic DX Test in 1991. At the request of a northern European DX club, a relay from mediumwave VLU2 was carried live on shortwave VLU with 150 watts SSB single side band on 11765 kHz. There are no known reception reports of this special broadcast on shortwave. The request for this special broadcast was lodged by Gordon Darling and it was announced by Andy Sennitt in Media Network from Radio Netherlands.

In 1972, serious consideration was given for the second time to the possibility of installing a large international shortwave station on Christmas Island. On this occasion, the concept was mooted by the British government, though both the BBC London and Radio Australia participated in a preliminary feasibility study.

The BBC was interested in installing a total of 21 shortwave transmitters, each at a power of 250 kW, together with a massive array of antennas, and an associated system of electric power generators. The BBC suggested that Radio Australia could use up to 14 transmitters at any one time with the only cost, just paying for the electricity.

At that time, the lease for the BBC Relay Station at Tebrau in Malaysia was soon to expire, and the BBC needed a new transmitter location. In addition, Singapore was interested in establishing a steel mill and a cement works on Christmas Island. However, due to the exorbitant costs associated with the entire super station project, this massive shortwave station never progressed beyond the planning stage. Instead an alternate location at Kanji in Singapore was chosen.

Both FM radio and downlink TV came to Christmas Island more than ten years ago, and these days there are six low powered FM stations on the air with a relay of ABC and commercial programming from Perth in Western Australia. Likewise, there are five different TV channels on the air from low powered downlink relay stations at three different locations near the settlement areas; Drumsite, Phosphate Hill and Rocky Point.

Back in December 2003, a Melbourne commercial company obtained a license for a mediumwave commercial broadcasting station on Christmas Island, identified as VZB804 with 400 watts on 1620 kHz. However, it would appear that this station was never installed. A longwave aircraft radio beacon is on the air on Christmas Island, XMX with 100 watts on 341 kHz. This low powered beacon is sometimes heard in Australia.

Then around five years ago, the usage of the nostalgic mediumwave callsign came to an end, and VLU2 was allotted an Australian callsign 6ABCRN, indicating ABC Radio National in Western Australia. Thus, the end of another radio era!