Home | Back to Wavescan Index

"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 N396, September 25, 2016

Outback Radio in Australia - 2

Shortwave listeners around the world have reacted positively with the welcome news that the three shortwave stations in Australia's Northern Territory were not closed permanently. The three shortwave transmitters carrying the ABC programming to the scattered settlements in the desert areas of sparsely populated Australia returned to the air on Tuesday, September 13 at 9:00 am Sydney time. Many international radio monitors have reported hearing these three re-activated stations in the ABC Outback Radio network.

Last week here in Wavescan we presented the story about the early years of shortwave radio coverage into Australia's outback, and on this occasion we pick up the story again, beginning way back nearly half a century ago.

It was during the early 1970s that consideration was given once again to establishing a reliable shortwave service for scattered residents in Australia's sparsely populated desert areas; and initially, a total of six shortwave transmitters was envisaged. A preliminary on air target date was set for 1971, and the location for at least three of these new transmitters was the Radio Australia relay station located on Cox Peninsula, across the harbor from Darwin.

Three shortwave transmitters at 100 kW were obtained from Harris Gates in the United States, and these were taken into storage at the quite new ABC mediumwave facility at Pimpala, down the coast from Adelaide in South Australia. However, at Christmas 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed much of Darwin city and damaged the nearby Radio Australia transmitter base.

Thus it was that once more shortwave coverage for the Northern Territory was again postponed. One of the transmitters at Pimpala was diverted to a temporary new relay station for Radio Australia at Carnarvon on the coast in Western Australia where it was activated on February 15, 1976 under the callsign VLL. (The two remaining shortwave transmitters at Pimpala were diverted for installation at Radio Australia Shepparton in Victoria.)

Give a few more years and planning began on another attempt at a shortwave service for the Northern Territory. In preliminary preparation, a 15 minute daily news bulletin was broadcast from the 500 watt communication transmitter VJY in Darwin. This news bulletin was a relay from 8DR ABC Darwin on mediumwave, it was on the air twice daily, and the VJY transmitter was located at the Radio Australia receiver base on Cox Peninsula.

In this new project for shortwave coverage of the Northern Territory, three Continental 100 kW transmitters Model 418D-2 were obtained, and they were installed each at a different location. Each transmitter was intended for unattended operation at a power level of 50 kW, on one shortwave channel during the day and another at night.

The locations chosen for the three transmitters were three towns all within the Northern Territory; Alice Springs in the south of the state, Tennant Creek in the center, and Katherine in the north. These towns are all linked by the main Northern Territory Highway 87, Stuart Highway.

The first of these three new Home Service shortwave stations was taken into service at Roe Creek near Alice Springs on February 20, 1986. Transmitter VL8A, located just off Stuart Highway on the south east side a little south of the small Alice Springs airport, took a program relay from the studios of mediumwave 8AL at Alice Springs.

Up in the north, the next station, VL8K, was inaugurated on April 3 in the same year 1986 and the transmitter was co-sited with the 50 watt mediumwave station 8KN. This double transmitter facility, mediumwave and shortwave, was installed, again just off Stuart Highway on the south east side, seven miles north west of Katherine.

In the center, the third shortwave transmitter was inaugurated just a few days later again, and it was co-sited with the 1 kW mediumwave station 8TC, just off the south side of Stuart Highway, five miles south east of Tennant Creek.

In addition, a 10 kW standby transmitter was to be installed at each location in order to provide emergency coverage in the event of a failure of the main transmitter. Even though a 10 kW emergency transmitter was included in the original planning for each station, there is no known evidence that these three additional emergency units were ever installed.

The antenna system at each station was a v-shaped net style log periodic supported from two masts. The antenna beam is vertical incidence; almost straight up, with a scattered downward reflection from the ionosphere into surrounding territorial areas.

Due to the excessively high temperatures in the desert areas, the three original shortwave transmitters failed from time to time. Thus, after nearly 20 years of on air service in the hot desert climate, all three of these Home Service shortwave transmitters were deemed too unreliable and replacements were needed.

One news report at the time suggested that RIZ transmitters from Zagreb in Croatia were under consideration, though ultimately, Continental replaced all three original units with their updated Model 418G, 100 kW units running again at half power. Each station was switched off in rotation for a month or six weeks, and during this time Radio Australia, Shepparton provided an interim fill-in service, beginning on October 10, 2005. The 100 kW Shepparton transmitter was noted on 11880 kHz during the day and 6080 kHz at night.

The three replacement transmitters in the Northern Territory were taken into service during the time period running from April to August 2006. Interestingly, an additional similar unit was installed at Tennant Creek for operation in the digital DRM mode in mid-2011.

Then ten years after the second set of transmitters were activated, all three were suddenly and unexpectedly silenced in early September (2016), though they were reactivated again almost two weeks later, on September 13.

The three shortwave stations in the Northern Territory Outback Radio Service, VL8A Alice Springs, 4835 kHz during the day and 2130 kHz at night; VL8K Katherine, 5025 kHz during the day and 2485 kHz at night; and VL8T Tennant Creek, 4910 kHz during the day and 2325 kHz at night, are all back on the air again 24 hours daily, and they are heard at times in many different countries around the world.