Friday, January 08, 2016

Focus on the South Pacific: Shortwave Callsigns in Australia VLF

During the past century or more, the callsign VLF has been applied to six different wireless and radio installations at five different locations in the areas of the South Pacific.  Initially, this callsign VLF was allocated to the spark wireless transmitter aboard the New Zealand passenger and cargo ship “Tofua”. 
            The good ship Tofua was built in England for the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand in 1908 and it was named after a dormant volcano island in the Tonga group in the South Pacific.  Wireless was installed on this ship around the beginning of World War 1 and the callsign VLF identified this ship for nearly ten years. 
            For a total of nearly a quarter century, the Tofua plied its trade among the many South Pacific island dependencies associated with New Zealand.  The ship was withdrawn from service in 1932 and it was sold for scrap and broken up in Osaka in Japan in 1934.
            Somewhere around the mid 1920s, the callsign VLF was reallocated to a shore based coastal wireless station that was installed on the island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.  This exotic island with a population of some 2,000 is a popular tourist destination for holiday seekers who desire a locale that still retains the flavor of the nostalgic South Pacific. 
            It was in 1942 that the callsign VLF was reallocated to a major shortwave station that was located on the continental Australian mainland.  During the era of World War 2, international radio monitors in the South Pacific, North America and Europe occasionally noted the transmitter with communication traffic with the United States. 
            It is probable that the callsign VLF was not the primary callsign for a specific transmitter but rather a subsidiary callsign for a new 10 kW transmitter that was allocated the primary callsign VLN.  This new VLN replaced an earlier 5 kW unit that had been on the air previously with the same callsign VLN.
            The callsign VLF3 for example, was noted in 1942 with traffic for San Francisco on the frequency 19300 kHz.  During the years 1940 - 1944, this same channel 19300 kHz, was also on the air quite frequently under the callsign VLN3.  The transmitters with the callsigns VLN & VLN-VLF were located at the well known pre-war shortwave station operated by AWA at Pennant Hills, near Sydney in Australia.
            The next occasion for the usage of the callsign VLF was with the Radio Australia shortwave base at Shepparton in Victoria.  In the early part of the year 1961, the 100 kW AWA-STC transmitter VLA was bifurcated, and with the insertion of additional electronic equipment another 100 kW transmitter was spawned.  This new unit, model number 4SU3A with the sequential callsign VLF, was taken into service in September of the same year 1961.
            However, during the next month, October, Radio Australia dropped the usage of all callsigns, and thus the callsign VLF as a specific transmitter was in use for only a few weeks at the very most.  From that time onwards, the callsign VLF, or just F, indicated a 50 kW transmitter located at the Shepparton shortwave base.  During the following year, 1962, the F line programming was switched to a 10 kW transmitter at the same location and beamed to various areas of the Pacific.
            There must have been a few QSL cards issued by Radio Australia to verify the short term usage of the 100 kW transmitter VLF, though the whereabouts of any such cards is unknown.  However, many Form Letter QSLs were issued to verify the broadcast of programing from a 50 kW transmitter under the line callsign VLF.
            The final occasion for the usage of the callsign VLF was applied to an American communication station located at North West Cape in Western Australia.  The callsign VLF can also be read as an acronym meaning Very Low Frequency.  
            In 1967, a huge radio station was constructed for the American navy on North West Cape, nearly 800 miles north of the state capital Perth.  This radio station is in reality a double facility with two sets of radio transmitters. 
            A huge longwave facility for communication with underwater submarines contained two Continental transmitters operating in the longwave range of 14 - 28.5 kHz.  Another nearby and separate site contained four shortwave transmitters rated at 40 kW PEP for use in international communication.  
            Interestingly two different callsigns have been associated with this massive American radio facility.  One callsign was NWC, which can be read as an American navy callsign and also as an abbreviation for North West Cape.  The other callsign is VLF, which can be read as an Australian shortwave callsign, and also as the acronym for Very Low Frequency.
            In summary, six different usages of the callsign VLF:-
            VLF     New Zealand   Ship SS “Tofua”        LP         1914 - 1924     Approx
            VLF     Aitutaki            Cook Islands             LP          1924 - 1928     Approx
            VLF     Pennant Hills   Australia                  10 kW      1942                Subsidiary call for VLN?
            VLF     Shepparton     Victoria                    100 kW    1961                Bifurcated from VLA
            VLF     Shepparton     Victoria                    50/10       1961 - 1999+  Line callsign
            VLF     NW Cape        Western Australia   1 MW       1967 - 1974    American facility

 (AWR/Wavescan-NWS 358)