Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gone but not forgotton - Radio Australia Darwin

Radio Australia Darwin; that modern state-of-the-art international shortwave broadcasting station as it once was, is gone, gone forever! It is no longer on the air, it has been dismantled, and the property has reverted to its original inhabitants, the Belyuen Aborigines.

The very modern city of Darwin in northern Australia, with its almost quarter million inhabitants, is vibrant and progressive, but it has not always been that way. It is known that the area was long under the aegis of the Larrakia Aborigines, and in fact there was active trade 600 years ago between the islands of Indonesia and the Aboriginal communities in what is now the Northern Territory.

The first recorded sighting of the Northern Territory of Australia by a European was made by the Dutch captain, Willem Janzoon aboard the good ship Duyfken in the year 1606. During the 1800s, the British made four unsuccessful attempts to establish permanent settlements along the northern coastal areas of Australia, but the land was considered to be too inhospitable, and the distances to other settlements on the continent of Australia were just too great.

In the year 1825, this northern area of Australia was annexed to the colony of New South Wales; nearly 40 years later, the administration of the territory was transferred to the colony of South Australia; the area was subsequently subdivided, at least temporarily, into two segments, Northern Australia & Central Australia; and finally the re-united territory was officially granted statehood in 1978.

In the year 1839, the famous ship HMS Beagle sailed into the local harbor during its second expedition, though the noted Charles Darwin was not aboard on this occasion. Thirty years later, a settlement was established, mainly for the purpose of maintaining the junction between the international underwater cable from England and the Overland Telegraph line from Adelaide in the south. At the time, the harbor was known as Darwin Harbor, but the settlement was known as Palmerston. The town name was changed to Darwin in 1911.

In the early part of the year 1942, Darwin was largely destroyed in double bombing raids on the same day, and ultimately, a total of 64 bombing raids were made on the town. The coastal maritime station VID was destroyed in the first raid and the radio service was quickly transferred to the airport radio station on the edge of town.

Darwin was rebuilt after the war, and it was largely destroyed again by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day 1974, and it has again arisen for the third occasion, this time as a beautified modern city.

Likewise, the Radio Australia shortwave station underwent three different and separate eras. Work commenced on this station in 1966 at a location on Cox Peninsula, seven miles across the harbor, or 100 miles around the unmade road. Three Collins transmitters rated at 250 kW were installed and these were activated progressively beginning in December 1968, though full usage was not implemented until nearly three years later.

Initially, programming was taken off air on shortwave from Lyndhurst and Shepparton and also from Brisbane, though three program lines became available three years later when the microwave link to Darwin was completed from Mt Isa in western Queensland. The three program lines from the studios in Melbourne were designated as VLK VLL & VLM.

However, the station was rendered inoperable as a result of the Christmas cyclone in 1974, and that was the end of its first era of operation, after just three years of full time on air duty.
During this interim period, a new, and supposedly temporary, shortwave station was installed into a vacant American NASA building on the edge of Carnarvon in Western Australia. In the meantime, consideration was given as to whether the Darwin station should be renovated, or re-erected further inland.

Almost ten years after the station was damaged in the cyclone event, the Radio Australia transmitter facility was re-activated at its original location with a regular schedule, using two transmitters on air and a third in hot standby. That was in September 1984.

Ten years later again, two new Thomson transmitters were installed; and soon afterwards, the 300 kW Thomson at Carnarvon, VLK, was taken to Darwin, where it was installed as VLU, but never taken into active service for Radio Australia. Instead, the station was again closed, on June 30, 1997, this time due to budget restrictions. That was the end of its second era of active service, lasting a dozen or so years.

Two years later again, a lengthy series of short test broadcasts began from Darwin with the use of several different transmitters and aerial systems. These tests were performed to keep the station alive in anticipation of possible coming events.

During this interim period, several other international broadcasting services, such as the BBC London, Deutsche Welle Germany, and the Voice of America in Washington DC, and others as well, made overtures to the Australian government requesting the usage of the Darwin station as a relay facility. However, none of these requests were granted, and instead, the station was sold to Christian Voice, who re-activated the station around the turn of the current century.

During the ten year period under Christian Voice, two Continental transmitters formerly in use with Adventist World Radio as KSDA3 & KSDA4 on the island of Guam were installed at Darwin and taken into regular service. The 300 kW Thomson from Carnarvon was also activated by Christian Voice. During this third era of on air performance, the Darwin station again carried some of the Radio Australia programming for coverage into Asia.

However, just before mid-year this year, the station was again closed, quite unceremoniously, and this time dismantled. Some equipment went to Shepparton for subsequent installation at Radio Australia, and some went to the new HCJB station at Kununurra, just across the state line near the northern coast in Western Australia. The building and the property at Cox Peninsula has already been given back to the Aboriginal Belyuen Community who inhabit the area.
There was also a receiver station located ten miles distant from the transmitter station and that was closed back in 1974 when the microwave broadband link was extended to Darwin, thus providing the program feed from the Melbourne studios.

QSL cards? Radio Australia has been a prolific verifier of their shortwave programming and multi-thousands of cards have been issued from their offices in Melbourne. Likewise, Christian Voice issued many QSL cards and email QSLs during their ten year period of ownership.
That magnificent shortwave station at the Top End in Australia has been silenced for ever, and even now it is no more than a nostalgic memory for millions of listeners throughout the world
(AWR Wavescan/NWS84 via Adrian Peterson)

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