"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 519, December 12, 2004
Solved - Sixty Five Year old Radio Mystery
For more than 60 years, a mystery logging in the United States of a shortwave station "down under" has remained unidentified. The listener was John Clark who was the Pacific Coast editor of "Shortwave Flashes," the regular monthly column in the American magazine, "Radio News." In the October issue for the year 1939, this is what he says: "An unidentified broadcaster, speaking English and believed to be located somewhere in Australia, has been heard irregularly near 5:00 am on approximately 7.17 megacycles." (Radio News, October 1939, page 53).
This monitoring observation raises three questions, and we
would ask: (1) Why was an Australian shortwave station listed
as unidentified? (2) Why was an Australian shortwave station
on the air in the 41 metre band when this band was specifically
allocated for use only by amateur radio operators? (3) Why
was this station not reported by shortwave listeners in Australia?
This puzzling entry in a 65 year old radio magazine spurred on a search for answers, and this is what we found. The first reference in this American magazine to a new shortwave station in Australia is found in the July issue in 1939 where it is stated that a new 2 kw station was under installation at Wanneroo in Western Australia. This new station would relay ABC programming to country areas of Western Australia under the callsign VLW for which three channels had been authorized: 6130, 9560 and 11830 kHz.
Twenty four pages later in the same issue, there is a report of an unidentified shortwave station heard in California on 11850 kHz and speaking with a British Empire accent. We know that work on the antenna system for VLW began several weeks earlier, so it would seem then that this unidentified "British Empire speaking station" had to be an initial test broadcast from the new VLW. The monitored channel, 11850 kHz, was very close to one of the authorized channels for VLW anyway.
Two months later again, "Radio News" reported that many listeners in the United States were hearing test broadcasts in English from a shortwave station on 6130 kHz presumed to be in Australia. This channel was indeed one of the authorized channels for this new station, so these monitoring observations also had to be from the new VLW.
Now, the difficult channel, 7170 kHz. Every indication would point to the fact that these test broadcasts were coming from the new 2 kw VLW at Wanneroo near Perth in Western Australia. But why 7 MHz in the 41 metre band. Was this not illegal at the time?
Well, the answer is no. Reports in several radio magazines around that era state that the 41 metre band was opened for broadcast usage around the middle of that same year 1939. In any case, most amateur radio stations around the world left the air at the beginning of September due to the commencement of the European Conflict. Thus, when the supposedly unidentified broadcasts were heard in the 41 metre band, it was now legal to use this band, and the band was now wide open for distant coverage.
Now for the third question: How come American listeners were hearing all of these test broadcasts from the new VLW, but no one in Australia seemed to be hearing them? Two answers. One is that these test broadcasts were on the air mostly into the late night in Australia when most people are well asleep, but daylight was coming into North America when people are awakening to the new day. The other answer is that the antenna beam for these transmissions was directed North East, thus giving good propagation into North America, but missing almost entirely the populated coastal areas of eastern Australia.
That was all 65 years ago. Thus the enigmatic statement that has stood staring at the inquisitive reader for the past 65 years now seems to be solved. All of the available evidence points to the fact that the supposedly unidentified shortwave station has to be none other than the ABC relay station, VLW, located at Wanneroo, near Perth in Western Australia.
But station VLW is now gone also, and all that is left are the memories of older shortwave listeners, entries in radio magazines, and exotic verification cards in distant QSL collections.