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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 N318, March 29, 2015

Focus on the South Pacific: Railway Radio in Australia - 2

In this our second installment about Railway Radio in Australia, we present the story of the mobile radio station 3YB that travelled the rails in the mainland state of Victoria. Mediumwave station 3YB began service in a pair of road vehicles on October 1, 1931; the equipment was transferred into a railway carriage a little over a year later; four years later again, it was inaugurated as a land based station in the country city Warrnambool; and it is still on the air to this day under the same callsign 3YB, with 2 kW on 882 kHz.

During the year 1901, a special railway carriage was built at the Newport Railway Workshops in suburban Melbourne. It was intended for VIP usage and given the official name Alexandra, though in the Victorian railway system it was identified as State Car No 2.

This railway carriage, the Alexandra, was built specifically for the use of the Duke and Duchess of York in England during their Royal Tour in Australia in 1901. They visited Australia for the purpose of participating in government celebrations honoring the federation of the six Australian colonies into the unified Commonwealth of Australia. While in the state of Victoria, the Duke & Duchess were accommodated in the Alexandra railway car for some of their travels. Nine years later the royal pair were elevated to the throne of England as King George V and Queen Mary.

Then 18 years later, that is 1919, the State Car No. 2 Alexandra was updated, modernized and renamed Melville. Give another 13 years, and the Melville railway car was made available to a group of radio oriented businessmen who had launched a successful mobile radio broadcasting station on wheels just a year earlier.

As a mobile radio station, the Melville railway car provided adequate accommodation for an on air studio, the radio transmitter, and living quarters for the staff of two, with an AC power generator installed on a rear platform. The mobile power generator was used if local AC power was not available.

The collapsible antenna system was fastened above the roof of the railway carriage on two masts, and a counterpoise was installed on the roof, together with an earth pin driven into the ground near the rails. The 25 watt mediumwave transmitter radiated initially on 1145 kHz, though this was changed a couple of years later to 1060 kHz. The mobile radio station was identified with a brightly painted sign on each side of the railway carriage, declaring 3YB Mobile Broadcasting Services.

On October 17, 1932, the radio equipment was transferred from the two motor vehicles, a Model A Ford and a Model T Ford, and installed into the Melville railway carriage. The Melville was then towed out on the rails from Melbourne into the Goulburn Valley on its first journey as a mobile radio broadcasting station.

At the time, there were 5,000 miles of railway lines interconnected in the Australian state of Victoria, though the gauge was different from the two neighboring states of New South Wales and South Australia. Thus it was that trains in Victoria could not move across state lines into the railway system of the two neighboring states. Back then, the Victorian railway system connected 300 towns and settlements with the state capital Melbourne.

The cost to the 3YB mobile radio station for the usage of the railway system was £12 per week, which also included needed towing. The station was not permitted to go on the air within 30 miles of an already existing land based mediumwave broadcasting station, and at the time, there were just seven country stations on the air in the entire state of Victoria.

When the Melville 3YB arrived at a designated location, it took just 13 minutes to raise the antenna system, attach the earthing, connect electricity, and place the station on the air. Where possible the station made a connection to the local electricity supply when it was available and within the needed parameters; that is, a correct and stable voltage, and AC not DC. On one occasion when the station needed to use its own power generator, it was because the local power, which was generated by a water wheel, varied between 160 and 260 volts.

At each location, programming was aired for four hours each evening beginning at 6:30 p.m., with just three hours of programming on Sunday evenings. The Melbourne based weekly radio newspaper, Listener In, gave the program schedules of radio stations throughout the continent as well as the up-to-date location of mobile station 3YB as it moved to its various locations.

All programming from 3YB was presented live, with the participation of visitors, and at times off site broadcasts were staged from important locations and events in the regional towns and cities. News and feature programs via a telephone line from Melbourne were also spliced into the local program service; and on occasions, school children made broadcasts over the station as they gave greetings to their parents. Many local businesses took the opportunity to advertise over the station, and this proved to be a commercial success.

However as time went by, the number of fixed land-based mediumwave stations in country Victoria increased markedly, and more were planned. With each new station coming onto the air, the available locations for mobile 3YB were decreasing, and the owners decided it would be better for them to establish a fixed station in a large country city rather than to remain mobile with a continually diminishing market.

Thus it was that the highly successful radio broadcasting service provided by 3YB, the radio station on rails, came to an end after three years of wandering the statewide railway system. The railway radio station was finally closed in October 1935, and a new land-based 3YB was inaugurated with new equipment in the city of Warrnambool on January 18 of the following year 1936.

Much of the mobile radio equipment was taken over by 3YB Engineer Harry Fuller and incorporated it into his own amateur radio station VK3HF.

This new fixed station retained the now well known callsign 3YB at its new location. The digit 3 indicated the state of Victoria, and the YB honored the Young Brothers in Ballarat city who had fostered the introduction of the mobile radio station some 9 years earlier. Over the years, 3YB in Warrnambool has upgraded its electronic equipment on several occasions, though they are still on the air mediumwave to this day with the same call 85 years later.

The Melville railway carriage reverted to railway usage after the radio equipment was removed and it was in use occasionally for the benefit of VIP visitors, and in particular some of the subsequent Royal Tours. When its official duties ended, it was then taken into occasional usage for special railway excursions for historic railway enthusiasts. In 1990, the carriage went into storage at Newport, where it had been originally built.

Since then, the Melville was taken to Seymour in country Victoria for historic preservation where it forms part of the Seymour Railway Heritage Center.