Friday, February 04, 2011

Australian States on Radio: Australian Capital Territory

In our program today, we begin a monthly series of topics on the subject of Australian states on shortwave; and interestingly, every state within the Commonwealth has been on the air shortwave, at least at some time or another.
As the first area of interest, we look at shortwave broadcasting in A. C. T., the Australian Capital Territory. It is true, ACT is not a separate state, but rather the federal territory in which the national capital city, Canberra is located. This slice of Australian territory is a little like Washington DC in the United States. Both are the national capital for the nation, but in Australia, the national territory also encompasses the neighboring countryside areas as well.
The Australian Capital Territory is located approximately half way between Sydney (Australia’s first settlement) and Melbourne (the temporary capital while Canberra was being developed). The original inhabitants of the area were the wandering Ngunnawal Aborigines. Exploration of the area by English settlers began in 1820, and the first homesteaders took up property four years later.
The widely separated colonies on the Australian continent, together with the island of Tasmania, were federated into a single nation on January 1, 1901, and provision was made at that time for the future development of a national capital. Exactly ten years later, to the very day, the territory was officially taken over by the federal government, and the city name, Canberra was chosen. We understand that the name Canberra is taken from an Aboriginal word meaning, meeting place.
The Australian Capital Territory is 55 miles long and 20 miles wide, and the city was designed by the American landscape architect, Walter Burley Griffin from Chicago. Griffin is also credited with the development of the now very popular home located carport; and the ornamental lake in the centre of Canberra is named in his honor. Today, this very modern capital city of Australia has 1/3rd million inhabitants.
An early wireless communication station was established for the Australian navy in Melbourne, Victoria. However, in 1925, during the era when Canberra city was still under its early development, the navy recommended that a large communication station should be established in the capital territory near Canberra.
Construction work for this new station at Belconnen, near Canberra, began without publicity in 1938. As the station was nearing completion during the following year, and on subsequent occasions also, rumors suggested incorrectly that this station might also be used as the transmitter base for the planned shortwave service of Radio Australia. The Belconnen station was officially opened on April 22 in the critical year 1939, and the first operational transmission as a navy communication station was made six months later.
The original transmitter was a high powered longwave unit, radiating from a very tall antenna system suspended from three towers 600 feet high and a quarter mile apart. As time went by, a cluster of shortwave transmitters was installed, and a bevy of curtain and rhombic antennas was erected.
At the height of its operation, the transmitter station at Belconnen contained 38 shortwave transmitters ranging in power from 10 kW to 40 kW, with 50 antenna systems, though most dominant in the skyline were the three tall longwave towers. Three receiver stations associated with the transmitter station were located progressively at three different sites nearby to Canberra; Red Hill, Fyshwick & Bonshaw.
This huge communication station was progressively decommissioned, withdrawn from service, finally closed in mid 2005, and then demolished, thus making way for a new housing development in suburban Canberra. The functions of the station were progressively transferred to a new navy communication station located further inland, near Albury, on the Murray River in New South Wales.
During its more than 66 years of service as a major communication radio station, Belconnen was on the air under at least seven different callsigns, and these were:-
VHP Navy communication
VIS Communication with commercial shipping
VIX Weather & shipping information
AXM Time signals after the closing of the chronohertz station VNG at Lyndhurst in Victoria
2AAFR Navy broadcasting service
AAFR Navy broadcasting service
ADFR Navy broadcasting service

The first known usage of the Belconnen radio station for the broadcast of radio programming occurred in the year 1956, and this was on the occasion of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne Victoria. All available shortwave transmitter space in Australia was pressed into service to ensure that adequate radio coverage could be provided for all foreign radio media covering the sporting events in Melbourne. It is reported that the navy communication station at Belconnen in the Australian Capital Territory also was in use for the relay of radio news and commentaries to other overseas countries during the Olympic Games.
Soon after the VNG chronohertz transmitters at Lyndhurst in Victoria were closed during the year 1987, the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne provided a radio time service via the Belconnen transmitter station. This familiar ticking sound was on the air for a period of twelve years and it was heard on three shortwave channels; 5100 kHz at 5 kW, and 6488 kHz & 12982 kHz both at 10 kW.
In 1991, a small temporary studio was installed in Canberra by the navy for the production of radio programming for broadcast to Australian service personnel on duty in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and at sea. Initially, this programming was on the air as the Gulf Link Service and it was relayed by Radio Australia Darwin to the Arabian Gulf area in May 1991. Five months later, the Belconnen transmitters began to carry this service, and the Darwin relay was subsequently discontinued, in May 1993.
In the meantime, a new and more substantial production studio was installed in Canberra, and programming was produced for broadcast under the callsign, 2AAFR, Australian Armed Forces Radio, which was in reality a New South Wales callsign, not an Australian Capital Territory callsign.
Way back, the first radio broadcasting station launched in Canberra was a commercial station and it was inaugurated in 1931 under the callsign 2CA. Even though the initial digit 2 was allocated to the state of New South Wales, yet all of the early radio stations in Canberra were also allocated callsigns with the initial digit 2. However, in more recent time, amateur callsigns in the federal territory have been allocated a VK1 callsign, and several of the subsequent AM and FM broadcasting stations were also allocated callsigns beginning with the initial number 1.
As far as the radio broadcasting service from Belconnen was concerned, the callsign 2AAFR soon gave way to the initials, AAFR, and also ADFR, Australian Defence Forces Radio. This radio broadcasting service was on the air from Belconnen for a period of eight years and it was beamed to Rwanda, Malaysia, Cambodia & Timor.
For a short period of time during the year 1999, the Belconnen station was heard on air with a relay of the ABC programming service known as 2 Triple J, that is 2JJJ.
It should also be noted that programming from the Canberra studio was relayed by the navy transmitting station located at North West Cape in Western Australia. On some occasions, the programming was separate, and sometimes it was in parallel with the Belconnen broadcasts.
The broadcast of radio programming from Belconnen ended in 1999, but shortly afterwards their Canberra studio produced another series of programs beamed to Timor, and this was relayed by Radio Australia in Shepparton Victoria.
The large and powerful navy communication station at Belconnen in Australia’s Capital Territory is now gone, and it has been replaced by suburban housing. However, many international radio monitors in many countries throughout the world hold historic memories of this station in their collection of QSL cards and letters.
Cards have been issued over the years for the several callsigns in use at Belconnen, including VHP, VIX, VIS, AXM, and the navy broadcasting service itself. In addition, Radio Australia also honored the broadcast of the navy programming over their Darwin & Shepparton transmitters with their large and colorful QSL cards.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS # 101 via Adrian Peterson)