Sunday, March 06, 2011

Cyclone Radio in Australia: The Afternmath of Cyclone Yasi

During the months of December and January, the three eastern states of Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, endured massive floodings which submerged many areas even in one state capital, the city of Brisbane (BRIZ-b’n) in Queensland. Multitudes of people had to evacuate, and local radio was used as a very important means of communication, informing people with significant news of events and developments, and it was also a source of encouragement to the bewildered.
Then, in early February, a massive cyclone struck the flood ravaged areas of North Queensland, adding fury to the already existent wide spread flood problems. For a few days, Cyclone Yasi with its wind speed somewhere around 200 miles per hour, wreaked havoc along coastal areas, and inland for several hundred miles. Once again, radio was a lifeline to the people, informing them of power outages, strong wind areas, and availability of supplies and emergency necessities.
The twin events, the intense Cyclone Yasi on top of widespread flooding, have been described as the worst natural disasters in the entire history of Australia.
The government radio service, ABC Local Radio in Queensland, provided a remarkable service to the stricken areas from their studios in Brisbane, and also in regional Townsville & Cairns. However, due to the fact that the floods and the cyclone damaged the electrical distribution systems, some of the many ABC local stations were off the air.
As a result, Radio Australia was asked to co-operate once again and provide widespread coverage on shortwave. It should be noted that Radio Australia has provided a similar service on previous occasions when cyclones have attacked the northern areas of Australia, in the Northern Territory, Queensland, and Western Australia.
With information that was provided by Radio Australia, the ABC in Queensland, Bob Padula in Melbourne, Jerry Berg in suburban Boston, and our own monitoring observations in Indianapolis, we build up the following picture of events during the onslaught of Cyclone Yasi.
At 12:45 pm, Australian time, on Tuesday February 1, Radio Australia in Melbourne received a request from the ABC in Brisbane to relay the programming of ABC Local Radio in Queensland on shortwave for the benefit of listeners in the northern areas that were affected by Cyclone Yasi. In response, states Nigel Holmes, Transmission Manager for Radio Australia, the Queensland local programming was on the air shortwave just 31 minutes later. The recent experience at Radio Australia was based upon their similar earlier programming involvement during Cyclone Larry back in the year 2004.
Radio Australia committed the usage of one of their shortwave transmitters for Yasi coverage, operating on 9710 kHz during their day and 6080 kHz at night. It is stated that the specific transmitter in use for this purpose was a newly installed Continental transmitter.
It would seem then that this Continental transmitter was actually in use on Guam in earlier years for the shortwave service of Adventist World Radio under the callsign KSDA. A few years ago, the two Continental transmitters at KSDA were removed from Guam and taken over by Christian Voice in Darwin; and when the Darwin shortwave station was closed and dismantled, the two Continental transmitters were taken over by Radio Australia for installation at Shepparton in Victoria.
However, even though it was stated that only one transmitter was diverted for Yasi coverage, it became evident that Radio Australia diverted much of its programming for a few days in order to give wide coverage to the events associated with the cyclone in Queensland. On the morning of Wednesday February 2, for example, three transmitters were noted at Indianapolis in parallel with live coverage from Queensland about the impact of Yasi. Around 1315 UTC, these three transmissions in parallel were noted on 6020 kHz, 9580 kHz & 9590 kHz, all at an almost perfect level and clarity.
Interestingly, none of the these three channels was from the specially dedicated transmitter which was allocated two other channels, 6080 kHz or 9710 kHz. However, at that time, this Continental transmitter was not audible in Indianapolis, not on either channel. This same program stream was also available in perfect clarity via the internet, though the internet stream ran several seconds behind the shortwave stream.
The programming during these few days of live broadcasts from Queensland was identified on air as ABC Local Radio in Queensland, with both pre-recorded identification announcements and also by the announcer on duty. Many phone calls were taken, mainly from the affected areas, though with some calls coming in from interested listeners in other countries, including the United States.
This live programming was co-ordinated by the ABC state headquarters in Brisbane, station 4QR, with their 50 kW transmitter near Bald Hills on 612 kHz. At times, there was also input from the ABC regional station 4QN located at Townsville, with its 50 kW mediumwave transmitter on 630 kHz. In addition to mediumwave, the ABC regional service in Queensland is also relayed through a large network of local FM stations throughout the state.
On the Tuesday afternoon, orders were given to evacuate the ABC studio building in Townsville, and three of the staff took accommodation in a nearby hotel. With them was an accumulation of electronic equipment for use in on air news bulletins and on the spot interviews. However, much of the equipment became inoperable when the power at the hotel went out.
Their one remaining instrument for communication was a mobile phone with which they filed voice reports about the cyclone. Due to the fact that laptop computers were no longer functioning, regional news bulletins were written out by hand and read into the mobile phone, while sitting in the hotel fire escape stairways with small candles providing the only light at night. The announcer gave station identification from this primitive emergency location, as “ABC Local Radio in Queensland, here in Townsville”.
Some programming from Cairns, was also spliced into the emergency programming, and the announcer up there stated that they had transferred their live program production from the regular in town studios to the Boardroom in the City Council Building. The local ABC mediumwave station in Cairns, which is the large most northerly city in Queensland, is 4QY with 2 kW on 801 kHz.
Cyclone Yasi stormed ashore from the Pacific soon after midnight at a small coastal community located between Townsville & Cairns, known as Mission Beach. As it meandered inland, it lost its power, but heavy rains followed. A few days later, it became no more than a regular rain storm as it crossed the state border from Queensland into the Northern Territory.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS # 106 via Adrian Peterson)