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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 334, May 20, 2001

Old Radio Australia Relay Stations in the Middle East

Recent research in conjunction with "Pacific Radio Heritage" in New Zealand reveals the fact that Radio Australia was on relay from at least three different locations in the Middle East back during the era of the Middle East phase of World War II. This is the story, and it goes back to the earliest origins of radio broadcasting for the benefit of Australian servicemen on duty overseas.

In the latter part of the year 1938, the PMG Department in Sydney began planning for the construction of a mobile radio studio which would be used in the production of outside broadcasts for relay by the ABC network of mediumwave and shortwave radio stations throughout Australia. Work on this project was completed in the earlier part of 1939, and the new ABC Mobile Van was assigned to the New South Wales branch of the ABC.

This new ABC Mobile Van was a state-of-the-art radio studio of the era, complete with turntables, microphones, control console, and associated equipment. Also included was a shortwave transmitter and receiver for point-to-point transmission of recorded material. The roof of the van was specially strengthened so that it could be used as an elevated platform for outside broadcasts.

During the earlier part of the year 1940, this ABC Mobile Van was modified in Sydney in preparation for shipping it to the Middle East. An additional van contained supplementary equipment which included a 32 volt generator and heavy duty batteries. Additionally, there was a pair of high frequency transmitters and receivers for the usage of broadcast personnel in coordinating events associated with the production of remote broadcasts.

The ABC Mobile Van was scheduled to be shipped from Australia to the Middle East in early June 1940, though the departure date was delayed until the end of August due to wartime priorities. The van was set up in the Australian army base near Jerusalem.

Special Forces Programs from "Australia Calling," the early name for Radio Australia, were received off air and recorded on large discs. These discs were then taken to the local mediumwave station of the Palestine Broadcasting Service and rebroadcast for the benefit of Australian servicemen in the area. This radio station was a 20 kw unit on 668 kHz under the callsign ZJM. It had been established just three years earlier.

Unfortunately, this radio rebroadcast service in the Middle East did not live up to its high expectations. The signal from the low powered shortwave stations in Australia was variable, there was a high degree of local static, and the programming content was considered inadequate. 

An officer in the Australian army stationed in Jerusalem complained about these matters in a letter to his father in Adelaide, South Australia, and the information was passed on to army headquarters in Melbourne in February 1941. As a result, the overseas shortwave service was removed from the ABC and placed under the control of the Department of Information.

In the early part of the year 1941, after only a few months of service in the area, the ABC Mobile Van was shipped from Palestine back to Australia, though the radio personnel and several items of equipment were retained in the Middle East. The van was then refurbished and, together with additional electronic equipment, was divided into three segments for use in the islands to the north of Australia. 

In November of the same year, 1941, PMG engineer Reg Boyle conducted a series of test broadcasts in Jerusalem for the relay of Radio Australia programming using a 500 watt shortwave transmitter. As a result of these tests, he concluded that a 1 kw unit would be necessary in order to provide a satisfactory broadcast service in the area.

The Australian army in Jerusalem then lodged a request with army headquarters in Melbourne for approval to erect a 1 kw shortwave station in Jerusalem for the local relay of radio programming from "Australia Calling." This station was projected to cost 5,000 pounds and it would be under the control of a PMG engineer, Reg Boyle. However, even though this request was approved by army headquarters, this project was never implemented.

Recently, David Ricquish in Wellington, New Zealand, discovered a set of two photos on an Australian government website. These photos depict a building in the Gaza Strip in Palestine with antennas on the rooftop. The identification for these photos gives the date as February 14, 1942, and the station is identified as ABC Gaza.

Thus the available evidence would suggest that Radio Australia was relayed over three different stations in the Middle East during the era 1940-1942: (1) the 20 kw mediumwave station ZJM in Jerusalem, (2) a 500 watt shortwave transmitter, also in Jerusalem; and (3) an Australian Forces mediumwave station located in the Gaza Strip.