Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Railway Radio in Australia

Part 1 
            The first wireless transmissions from a moving train in Australia took place during the years 1910 and 1911.  A prominent wireless experimenter in that era, George Taylor, conducted several successful experiments on moving trains that were speeding between Sydney in New South Wales and Melbourne in Victoria. 
            On some occasions, he placed a wireless transmitter and a receiver at two different locations on the same train and succeeded with communication between both units while the train was in motion.  On other occasions, he succeeded in making wireless communication between two different trains running at full speed.
            However, during the next decade, all of the radio experiments in association with trains in Australia centered about reception on a moving train, rather than on broadcasting from a moving train.
On April 7, 1924, for example, a passenger train left Melbourne bound for Sydney with a radio receiver aboard, and a musical concert on the air from a mediumwave broadcasting station in Sydney was heard quite clearly.  This was an all time first in Australia.
            Six months later, a similar experiment was conducted in South Australia.  At 2:35 in the afternoon on October 10 (1924), a special train left the Adelaide railway station bound for Belair in the nearby Adelaide Hills, and aboard were fifteen radio receivers.
            Initially, all of the receivers were tuned to the same radio station so that passengers could readily make a comparison between receivers of various makes.  Soon afterwards though, the receivers were tuned to whatever station the listener desired to hear, and they could tune in to the music  programming from any of four different stations, amateur or broadcast: 5AB, 5DN, 5RM or 5RG. 
            This special railroad trip attracted so many people that the railway officials had to connect a second carriage in order to accommodate the three hundred people who desired to participate.  On the return journey, the train stopped inside a tunnel in order to check radio reception there.  However, the listeners discovered that signals from all four radio stations were degraded inside the tunnel.
             A subsequent event on a special train running from Adelaide to suburban outer Hallett Cove on the coastline attracted five hundred people, and nine radio receivers were installed aboard. 
            In June 1926, radio reception tests were made in a VIP carriage known as the Norman Car.  This carriage was attached to a train leaving the Flinders Street station in Melbourne.  It was reported that several radio broadcasting stations were picked up well, and that the receivers did not need an earth connection.
            Similar experiments were conducted on moving trains in country areas also, and in 1925, reception experiments were conducted in a special carriage attached to a train running from Cockburn to Mt. Dutton, in the outback areas towards the center of the continent.  The external receiving antenna was attached above the roof of the carriage and reception from radio broadcasting stations was described as good..
            The first radio broadcasting station aboard a railway train in Australia was station 2XT, a 500 watt AWA transmitter on 1175 kHz.  This radio station was part of an exhibit on board an exhibition train, known as the Great White Train, which started out from Sydney on November 11, 1925.  It is claimed that this was the first radio broadcasting station on a train anywhere in the world. 
            A total of fifteen carriages carried commercial exhibits from thirty well known manufacturing companies, and in its two year tour throughout country areas in the state of New South Wales, the train travelled 45,000 miles and visited more than one hundred towns, attracting more than half a million visitors.  Station 2XT was installed in a carriage that was occupied completely with electronic equipment manufactured by the AWA company.
            The train would arrive at each new location in the morning, the staff would then go out and visit trades people, and in the afternoon and evening the exhibits were open to local visitors.  Usually there was an official Civic Reception in each town with local community leaders.
            The first stop on this long and very successful tour was at Gosford, north of Sydney.  The stay at any particular town was extended up to as many as five days.
            The radio station 2XT was on the air in two sessions each day, from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm and again from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm.  Live programming featured recorded music, speeches from local civic and commercial personnel, as well as information about the contents in each of the exhibits aboard the train.
            The antenna was a single wire 60 feet long on masts at a height of 40 feet above the AWA carriage, and the rails served as an earthing system.  Reception reports were received from listeners all over Australia and New Zealand, and also up in New Guinea. 
            Sometime during month of December, 1927, mobile radio station 2XT on the Great White Train made its last program broadcast at its last visit to a small country town in the Australian state of New South Wales.  The train returned to Sydney and all of the exhibits were unloaded.  We can only presume that the radio transmitter was also unloaded from the train, and perhaps sold off to a land based radio station for installation at a new location.  But where?  I guess we will never know!   

            There are no known QSL cards or letters verifying reception of station 2XT aboard the Great White Train.  However, Dr. Bruce Cartys splendid large format book, On the Air: Australian Radio History, carries a picture, on one of its early pages, of the advertising leaflet that was distributed in each town that the train visited.  The Carty book shows the leaflet that was imprinted for the visit to the large regional city of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 313)