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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 482, March 28, 2004

Darwin Anniversary

It was around this season back in the year 1969 that the first official test broadcasts went on the air from the new Darwin relay station in northern Australia.  This notable shortwave station is thus currently celebrating its 35th anniversary.

Five years earlier, in the year 1964, the federal government in Australia announced plans for the construction of what was called a booster shortwave station for Radio Australia.  Two years later again, construction work commenced on this new facility that is located at the eastern end of Cox Peninsula across the waters from Darwin city.

Unofficial test broadcasts from the first of three 250 kw. Collins transmitters began in December 1968, and finally all three units were ready for regular programming in April 1970.  However, many problems were encountered in the electronic and computer systems, and so only two transmitters were taken into regular scheduling and the third was maintained for emergency usage, sometimes in hot standby. 

At first, the program relay from the Melbourne studios of Radio Australia was taken off air from the shortwave transmitters at Shepparton and Lyndhurst.  However, beginning in September 1974 the program relay was fed by landline from Melbourne with the use of three lines that were designated with Australian shortwave callsigns, VLK, VLL and VLM.

On Christmas Eve in the same fateful year, 1974, a horrendous cyclone named Tracy hit the Darwin area destroying 80% of the entire city.  The Radio Australia transmitters were taken off the air a little before midnight local time. 

For the benefit of the people living in the Darwin area, the programming from the local ABC mediumwave station 8DR was fed by landline to Melbourne where it was re-broadcast on shortwave from the 100 kw. transmitters located at Shepparton in Victoria.

At the time of this massive Australian disaster I was living in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and in order to keep up with these historic radio events, I fed the shortwave programming into a small microphone transmitter and listened to the continuing saga on a portable FM radio receiver.

Due to lengthy delays on the part of the federal government, it was another four years before three new antennas were erected at the Cox Peninsula shortwave station, and even then it was on the air only as a fill-in with an emergency relay when the Carnarvon station in Western Australia was off the air.

After another lengthy delay on the part of the federal government lasting six years, the station was finally re-activated with a regular schedule on September 3, 1984, using, again, two active transmitters with the third in standby mode. 

Ten years later again, two new transmitters at 250 kw. were installed, and three years later again the 300 kw. transmitter VLK at Carnarvon was transferred to Darwin as VLT.  However, in July 1997, the station was again closed and the facility was maintained with only occasional on-air tests that were sometimes heard in Australia and beyond.

At this stage a new player enters the field, and this is Christian Voice from England.  On September 18, in the monumental year 2000, test transmissions from Christian Voice were commenced from the Darwin radio station, and soon afterwards they were granted government approval to purchase the station.  Since then, Christian Voice has been radiating their own programming over the Darwin shortwave station, and on April 23 last year they also began a part-time relay of programming on behalf of Radio Australia

The current scheduling reveals that only two of the six transmitters in Darwin are in active on-air usage.  These two units are the 300 kw. VLK-VLT from Carnarvon, and one of the 1993 transmitters, probably the unit that was designated as VLS.

QSLs verifying the reception of programming from the Darwin shortwave station abound throughout the world.  The QSL cards and letters when the station was under Radio Australia are of colouful nature cards, or verification letters carrying the line callsign in use for each transmitter.  Recent information tells us that Voice International is now also issuing a new QSL card from their office in Buderim in Queensland.