"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 N419, March 5, 2017
Radio Australia: The Silent Shortwave Stations, Pt. 2
As you will remember, we presented a special program here in Wavescan at the end of January in which we honored the illustrious history of Radio Australia at the time of the final closure of their last remaining shortwave transmitter base in Shepparton Victoria. In recent time, there has been a worldwide flurry of news reports and comments in many languages, European and elsewhere, regarding the end of Radio Australia shortwave.
This widespread international reaction indicates the high esteem with which Radio Australia has been regarded, with so many international radio monitors and shortwave listeners deploring the loss of this respected and reliable shortwave voice. Even the shortwave service of the sister dominion across the other side of the Tasman Sea, RNZI Radio New Zealand International, declared that it was an unwise move on the part of the Australian authorities to terminate the international shortwave service from Radio Australia.
Even though the shortwave signal from Shepparton was directed mainly to Asia and the Pacific, yet the programming was often heard further afield, in Europe and in North America. Then too, in times of weather emergencies in the Pacific and in the northern areas of the Australian continent, the shortwave signal from Shepparton was a valuable source of uptodate and reliable information that has been credited over a period of time with saving many lives.
As we mentioned a few moments ago, in our program at the end of January we honored the more than three quarters of a century of shortwave service from Radio Australia. On that previous occasion, we presented the outline story of five shortwave stations in continental Australia that carried the programming from the Melbourne studios of Radio Australia. These five stations were AWA Pennant Hills, New South Wales, ABC Lyndhurst, Victoria, ABC Wanneroo, Western Australia, with its adjacent old and new facilities, and Radio Australia Shepparton, Victoria.
In our program today, we catch a glimpse of the remaining five shortwave stations that have carried the programming of Radio Australia from their studios in Melbourne, Victoria. But before we present the interesting information about each of these shortwave stations, we catch a brief glimpse of two large shortwave stations in Australia that were not part of the Radio Australia program network.
Interestingly, during the year 1939, two large shortwave stations were under construction in Australia; one at Belconnen, on the edge of Canberra city in the Australia Capital Territory, and the other at Coonawarra, on the edge of Darwin city in the Northern Territory. Popular rumor back at the time conjectured that maybe these two shortwave stations were under construction for Australia Calling, the original name for Radio Australia.
However, as time went by, it became obvious that Radio Australia was not involved, and instead, both stations were under the control of the Royal Australian Navy for communication with navy vessels. At the height of its operational capacity, the Belconnen communication station operated with a total of 38 shortwave transmitters and 44 antenna systems. The primary callsigns for Belconnen were VHP and AXM.
The navy communication station at Belconnen was closed at the end of the year 2006 and it was replaced by a new station a hundred miles further inland at Lyndoch, though it is operated remotely from Canberra. A new housing estate has since encroached into the previous station property at Belconnen.
The Naval Wireless Transmitting Station Coonawarra commenced operations on September 18, 1939, at its inland location on the eastern outskirts of Darwin city. This facility was in continuous usage until it was destroyed by the onslaught of Cyclone Tracy during the Christmas season in 1974. The main callsigns at Coonawarra were VHM and AXI.
Now for the interesting information about the remaining five shortwave stations on the Australian continent that carried the programming of Radio Australia.
6. Bald Hills Queensland: VLQ VLM RA
The first test broadcasts from a new 10 kW STC shortwave transmitter VLQ at Bald Hills, a dozen miles north of Brisbane in Queensland, took place on February 14, 1943 on 9660 kHz. Two years later, the ABC introduced a daily 15 minute news bulletin over VLQ for the benefit of listeners in Papua New Guinea.
Beginning on May 5, 1974, Radio Australia augmented their daily shortwave service to Papua New Guinea with the introduction of a relay via a 10 kW Bald Hills transmitter without callsign on 11885 kHz. At this stage, Bald Hills contained three shortwave transmitters at 10 kW, the usage of which was rotated through the three services; inland VLQ & VLM and Radio Australia. The Radio Australia service to Papua New Guinea via Bald Hills ended just two years later, on May 2 (1976).
Even though the shortwave transmitters at Bald Hills were switched off in 1976, yet this radio staton remains in service with ABC programming through two mediumwave units: 4QR with 50 kW on 612 kHz, and 4RN with 25 kW on 792 kHz.
7. Brandon Queensland: VLG VLJ VLS
Another Radio Australia shortwave station in Queensland was co-sited with mediumwave 4QN near coastal Brandon, a few miles south of Townsville. There were three transmitters at 10 kW at the Brandon site and they carried Radio Australia programming to the Pacific for nearly a quarter century from 1988 to 2011 with the unannounced callsigns VLG, VLJ and VLS.
Due to the fact that there were just two shortwave antenna systems available, only two transmitters were on the air at any one time, with parallel programming. Mediumwave 4QN with 50 kW on 630 kHz is still on the air at the Brandon location.
8. Darwin, Northern Territory: RA VLN, VLP, VLQ, VLS, VLT, VLU
The Australian government constructed a booster shortwave station for Radio Australia on Cox Peninsula, across the harbor from Darwin city, and it began a relay of programming for Asia in 1968. The first three transmitters at 250 kW were obtained from the Collins company in the United States, and over the intervening years, another half dozen high powered transmitters were progressively installed at this location. Over a period of time, several line callsigns were in use, including VLN, VLP, VLQ, VLS, VLT and VLU
Radio Australia on Cox Peninsula endured a varied history during its tenure of a third of a century. The station sustained significant damage during Cyclone Tracy at Christmas 1974; funding for repair came slowly; technical problems interrupted the full usage of the beleaguered station; it was off the air for several years; and in partial usage only for just as many more years; and it was ultimately leased to a Christian organization, Christian Vision, under whom it was finally closed in 2010.
The station was ultimately dismantled and the property was returned to the local Aboriginal tribe.
9. Gnangara Western Australia: NASA
The isolated Radio Australia shortwave relay station at Cox Peninsula in the Northern Territory was damaged by Cyclone Tracy at Christmas in 1974. A new temporary station was needed just as soon as possible and test broadcasts were carried out from a vacant joint American-Australian NASA space station at Gnangara near Perth in Western Australia just two months later.
These test transmissions were made over two modified SSB single side band transmitters rated at 7.5 kW at Gnangara for a couple of weeks in late February and early March (1975). The tapes for these test broadcasts were prepared in the Radio Australia studios in Melbourne for which QSL cards were issued with the location inscribed as Perth.
10. Carnarvon Western Australia: VLK VLL VLM
As a result of the successful test transmissions from Gnangara in Western Australia, work went ahead at another joint American-Australian NASA space station, this time at Carnarvon on the Western Australian coastline. Three transmitters were installed progressively at this ostensibly temporary relay station and they were on the air to Asia under the callsigns VLK, VLL and VLM. This station was on the air with the programming of Radio Australia for a period of twenty one years, extending from 1975 to 1996.
All of the equipment was removed from the Radio Australia site, and all buildings were demolished except for one small building. Today, there is just one large self-standing aerial tower at this location, which is in use for local TV and FM relay stations, ABC and commercial.
So there we have it; all ten of the shortwave stations that were on the air with the programming from Radio Australia; five as presented in our January program and five as presented in this program today. Next time, we will present the lesser known information about the six-station mediumwave network that carried a relay of programming from Radio Australia.