Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Australian Shortwave Callsigns: VLB
Quite simultaneously more than 100 years ago, two 50 kW spark wireless stations were under construction in New Zealand, one at the northern tip of the North Island and the other at the southern tip of the South Island. Both of these stations, with identical equipment, were installed by German personnel who were working with the Telefunken company in Germany under contract with the Australasian Wireless Company in Sydney, Australia.
The second of these two wireless stations, at least in alphabetic order, was located on the Awarua Plain near The Bluff, right at the very bottom of the South Island of New Zealand. The triangular mild steel antenna tower for this new wireless station weighed 120 tons and it stood at 410 ft high, resting on a ball and socket joint on a glass insulator. A 70 horse power motor generated the electricity. Both the receiver and the transmitter were installed in the same building, though in separate rooms.
This new wireless station was activated on March 27, 1913 and it was taken into regular service at the end of the same year, December 18. It is probable that the first and temporary callsign for this new station was ZLB, that is station B in New Zealand, indicating the second of these two new stations, and also the station at the Bluff. Soon afterwards, the callsign was modified to VLB, due to new international wireless regulations.
Somewhere around the year 1924, the electrical equipment at station VLB was changed from spark gap operation to electronic valve or tube operation. Then in 1927 the callsign was again amended, this time from VLB to ZLB, due again to a change in international radio regulations. The station was closed on August 30, 1991 at the end of its ¾ century of illustrious service when its communication capability was no longer needed.
In the mid 1930s, the callsign VLB was taken over for usage with a small communication station located at the lighthouse on Maatsuyker Island at the very southern coast of the Australian island of Tasmania. Maatsuyker is a small uninhabited island which looks on the map like a tortoise sitting upright; it is just 1½ miles long by ¾ mile wide. The Maatsuyker Lighthouse is the most southerly lighthouse in Australia.
A few years later, the callsign VLB was removed from the little communication radio station on Maatsuyker Island and it was held in readiness for a powerful 100 kW shortwave transmitter that was under construction for installation at Shepparton in Victoria. Three transmitters at 100 kW each were envisaged for deployment at Shepparton, and the original planned allocation of callsigns was VLA, VLC & VLM.
The driver and preliminary stages for the new VLB transmitter were constructed in Australia by AWA, and the modulator and final stages were constructed by STC, Standard Telephones and Cables, both in suburban Sydney. The VLB transmitter, with its two channel input allowing for quick frequency change, was activated in May 1946, and it was taken into scheduled service with test broadcasts and regular programming soon afterwards.
A postfix number after the callsign, such as VLB3 VLB6 or VLB8, indicated a specific frequency for on air usage. Beginning on June 1, 1951, the usage of the postfix numbers was modified, so that the number itself indicated a particular megahertz band.
During the year 1960, work was underway to bifurcate the two 100 kW transmitters and one of the 50 kW transmitters took over the VLB service. For example, the PMG Schedule dated September 4 1960 shows both VLA & VLB shown as 50 kW each.
In 1961, the modifications were completed, the VLB transmitter was now bifurcated into two units, and with the insertion of additional electronic equipment, a complete new transmitter became available. This new unit was given the callsign VLE. The original VLB transmitter was finally withdrawn from service in 1983.
At the end of the same year in which VLB was bifurcated, Radio Australia dropped the usage of official callsigns, and instead the callsign VLB identified a specific program line from the Melbourne studios to the transmitter site at Shepparton. To this day, the identification B or VLB still refers to the specific program line that runs to Shepparton, though not necessarily a specific transmitter.
Radio Australia was usually a prolific verifier of reception reports and literally thousands of QSL cards under the callsign VLB were posted out to listeners all around the world. During the quarter century when this callsign was in vogue, two different QSL cards were in use, though half a dozen slight printing variations are known.
The first card was in use from 1946 - 1950 and it depicted a map of Australia in yellow with a stylized antenna; and the second card which was in use during the 1950s, depicted a more detailed map with the famous laughing bird, the Kookaburra. This second card had two major variations, one with the station name in yellow and the other with the station name in red. Form letter QSLs were issued for a few years during the 1990s, giving the usage of the line callsign VLB together with the frequency and transmitter location as Shepparton.