Monday, October 01, 2012

A Century of Wireless Development

The Long Story of a Maritime Wireless Station “Down Under”
Today, October 1, 2012, is the 100th anniversary of an early and important maritime wireless station.  It was on that date, Tuesday October 1, 1912, that the coastal wireless station POA was officially opened for wireless communication with passing ships; it was the only wireless station on the southern coast of Australia located in between what we might call the east and the west fringes of the continent; and yes, it participated in its share of radio broadcasting activities, including shortwave beam programming.  This is what happened. 

            It was during the year 1912 that a whole host of new wireless stations were installed in coastal areas on the continent of Australia.  The 6th station in this network of new communication facilities was installed at Rosewater, an outer near-coastal suburb of Adelaide, the capital city of the state of South Australia.

            At the time, Rosewater was a lonely and isolated locality, just one mile inland from the busy sea port of Port Adelaide.  The new wireless station was installed into a newly constructed building on what was known as Grand Junction Road.

            The transmitter was a 5 kW spark transmitter, designed in the Balsillie wireless system, and manufactured in Sydney at the Maritime Wireless Company, which was owned by the Catholic priest, Archibald Shaw.  The aerial system was a center fed squirrel cage, suspended from two wooden masts, 250 feet tall and 250 feet apart. The earthing system consisted of a large copper plate and a mat of radial wires.

            Their 1st receiver was a 3 position crystal set, with a choice of 3 different crystals and cat’s whiskers.  Electrical power was taken from the city power grid.  The station was installed and operated by the PMG, Postmaster General’s Department, and initially a staff of 3 operated the entire facility.  In those days, the Adelaide station was usually the 1st station on this continental island that was heard by ships coming in from the Far East.

            The original callsign for the Rosewater station was POA, standing for Post Office Adelaide.  However, the call was changed a few weeks later to VIA; with the letter V indicating Australia and honoring the late Queen Victoria, the letter I as part of an Australian sequence of callsigns, and the letter A standing again for Adelaide.

            On October 1, 1915, station VIA was taken over by the Australian navy, along with all other stations in the coastal radio system.  Then 5 years later again, the station was transferred back to PMG control; and then on May 8, 1922, it was taken over by AWA, (the Australian equivalent of the American RCA), along with all of the other coastal radio stations.

            At the time, that is in 1922, VIA was still on the air with the original spark transmitter, though by now it was in operation full time, 24 hours daily.  The observatory time signal was broadcast twice daily, at midday & midnight, and weather bulletins were broadcast regularly throughout the day in Morse Code.   

            In 1923, the British passenger liner, “Changsha” hit a reef off the coast of the Philippines while en route from Australia to the Far East.  Adelaide Radio VIA was the 1st station to hear and report the SOS signal from the stranded ship “Changsha”.

            A new 500 watt communication transmitter was installed at Rosewater in October 1925, together with a bank of regenerative valve receivers, all made in Sydney by AWA.  The original spark transmitter was removed from service 18 days later on October 22.

            Then, in 1927, work on a new 5 kW shortwave transmitter was completed at the AWA factory near Ashfield in Sydney, and this unit was tested on air at the factory in communication with the sister coastal station VIM in Melbourne.  This new transmitter was then transported to Adelaide and installed at VIA Rosewater, and taken into communication service in November 1927. 

            This new shortwave transmitter was specifically designed for use in what was called the AWA Beam Service.  That is, the transmitter would be in use for the point to point relay of radio programming and for official communications between Adelaide and the two eastern state capitals, Melbourne & Sydney.  The AWA Beam Service from Adelaide would be quite similar to the Beam Service at the two other locations, the better known VK3ME & VK2ME.

            It is known that radio programming from the two ABC stations in Adelaide, 5CL & 5AN, was at times relayed by the ABC mediumwave stations throughout the Commonwealth.  It is also known that

the popular commercial program on 5AD, “Australia’s Amateur Hour” with Dick Fair was relayed throughout Australia, and also worldwide by Radio Australia on shortwave.  As required, the Beam Transmitter at Rosewater fed the required programming eastward to Melbourne & Sydney, and probably at times westward to Perth in Western Australia.  

            Beginning on August 1, 1943, station VIA began the relay of time signals from the local ABC mediumwave stations at 9:00 am & 10:00 pm, and this service was presented on longwave 500 kHz.

            As time went by, change & development were implemented.  In 1946, OTC, the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, took control of all maritime coastal stations including VIA.  Then, 6 years later, the receiver function was transferred from the Rosewater transmitter building to a temporary location in the grounds of “Minda Home” in suburban Brighton.

            With the development of housing estates in the area around the Rosewater station, the time had come for the construction of a totally new station.  A country property of 66 acres was procured at McLarenvale, 25 miles from the city; and at 1:00 pm on Friday March 29, 1963, the maritime coastal service was transferred from the old VIA in suburban Adelaide to the new VIA out in the rolling countryside.

            Over a period of time, a dozen transmitters, longwave, & shortwave, were in use at this new station.  However, 30 years later again with the march of electronic progress, the countryside station was closed in favor of alternative procedures in electronic communication with shipping.  The entire radio facility at VIA McLarenvale was put up for sale, and the new owners were a family that had migrated into the area from Germany. 

            The new owner, Dr Harro Krause, used this ex maritime radio station as his own amateur radio station, VK5HK.  His wife Yvonne also held an amateur radio license, VK5YK.

            This then, is the 100 year story of an important coastal wireless station that was on the air with occasional broadcast programming, and with the relay of other radio programming for extensive coverage elsewhere.  The 1st station in coastal Rosewater gave way to suburban housing; and the 2nd station in McLarenvale was taken over and operated as an amateur radio station.
(AWR/Wavescan via Adrian Peterson)