Note: This is a transcript from a story by noted radio historian Dr Adrian Peterson, of Adventist World Radio, as broadcast in the AWR program "Wavescan" on Dec 15 2013.
The Northern Territory Shortwave Service in Australia
These days, in many countries around the world, it is possible to buy a small radio receiver that can be taken into the shower cubicle, and while you are taking your morning shower, you can listen to the radio; perhaps your favorite music, or maybe the bulletin of latest news. Perhaps in some ways, there is a similarity between the popular morning shower and our radio topic for today here in Wavescan. It is Shower Radio on Shortwave: the story of the Northern Territory Shortwave Service in Australia.
The Northern Territory in Australia is a sparsely populated wide open territory, mainly desert, which is administered like a state within the Commonwealth of Australia. The territory encompasses half a million square miles with a population of only a quarter million. The capital city is Darwin, and the main tourist attractions are Ayers Rock in the red center, and the nearby Olgas Rocks.
The story about shortwave radio broadcasting in the Northern Territory can be traced back to the year 1928. In May of that year, mediumwave station 5CL in Adelaide, a commercial station as it was in those days, applied for a shortwave license for the purpose of relaying their programming to the widely scattered listeners in the outback areas of South Australia and the Northern Territory. For a period of time, the Northern Territory had been administered by the government in Adelaide, South Australia.
The 5CL license application requested 5 kW in the shortwave bands around 70 or 80 meters. However, the licensing authorities refused to issue a shortwave license for this purpose. Thus it was that during the next year, 5CL began to send some of its programming by landline to Melbourne where it was picked up by 3LO and re-broadcast to the Northern Territory on shortwave from VK3ME, the AWA transmitter at suburban Braybrook.
Ten years later, consideration was again given for coverage of the Northern Territory on shortwave, and again mediumwave 5CL in Adelaide, by this time operating as a government ABC radio station, was intended to be the program source. However, with international tensions beginning to mount in a prelude to World War 2 over there in Europe, the project was shelved.
The next occasion for preliminary planning for a territory shortwave service took place in the early 1970s, and initially, a total of six shortwave transmitters were envisaged. Preliminary target date was 1971, and location, for at least three of these transmitters, was Radio Australia at Cox Peninsula near 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.
Once more shortwave coverage for the Northern Territory was again postponed, and 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 line callsign VLL. (The two remaining transmitters at Pimpala were diverted for installation at Radio Australia Shepparton in Victoria.)
Give another ten years and planning began on the fourth 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 near Cox Peninsula.
In this new project for shortwave coverage of the Northern Territory, three Continental transmitters model 418D-2 at 100 kW 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 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.
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.
The next station VL8K was inaugurated on April 3, 1986 and the transmitter was co-sited with the 50 watt mediumwave station 8KN. This double transmitter facility, mediumwave and shortwave, was installed just off Stuart Highway on the south east side, seven miles north west of Katherine.
The third shortwave transmitter was inaugurated a few days later, 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.
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. Each 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 transmitter was noted on 11880 kHz during the day and 6080 kHz at night.
The replacement transmitters, model 418G, were again provided by Continental, 100 kW units operating at 50 kW. All three were activated 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.
Currently, all three of the shortwave stations in the Northern Territory Regional Shower Service are on the air 24 hours daily, and they are heard seasonally in many different countries around the world.