Tuesday, June 09, 2020

The Radio Scene and the Overloaded Telephone Exchange

2BL (now 702 ABC Sydney) Outside Broadcast Van, 1934

The oldest medium wave radio broadcasting station in Australia is the almost one hundred year old ABC regional station 2BL Sydney with its 50 kW transmitter on 702 kHz at the outer suburban location of Liverpool.  In anticipation of the inauguration of the new radio broadcasting station in Sydney, test broadcasts began in October back in the year 1923 from a 10 watt amateur station 2HP at suburban Neutral Bay.

This low powered amateur transmitter was then installed on the top of the Smith’s Weekly/Guardian Newspaper Building in Philip Street Sydney where additional test broadcasts began on October 19 (1923).  These test broadcasts were heard by avid listeners all over eastern Australia, right up in North Queensland and right down in the island of Tasmania.  During the first three days of these test broadcasts, all seven of the newspaper’s telephone lines were jammed continually with calls from appreciative listeners. 

Down in Melbourne is the popular commercial station 3AW which traces its earliest origins back to the year 1932.  On February 22, that station was inaugurated with 300 watts on 1425 kHz, a split frequency during the era when it was more important to measure a station’s position on the radio dial in metres rather than in kilocycles.  The letters AW in the callsign were derived from three or four different sources that were associated with the ownership of the station; Allans Music Store, Williamson Theatre, Argus newspaper, and even perhaps AWA radio manufactory.

During the 1930s, radio station 3AW utilized a low power shortwave transmitter in the range of 5 metres for outside broadcasts.  These days radio station 3AW operates with 5 kW on 693 kHz.
Two years after station 3AW was inaugurated, they conducted a radio competition (1934) which required a telephone response.  For several days their telephone lines were bogged down with 3,000 phone calls that were cued up at the PMG manual exchange at the GPO in Melbourne city.

The English word orange is applied to a sweet juicy fruit that is grown widely around the world.  This same word also identifies a color, the same color as the skin of the orange fruit.  In addition, the word Orange is also the name of a regional city in the Australian state of New South Wales.  This regional city was named in honor of Prince William of Orange who subsequently became King William 2 of the Netherlands.

On October 31, 1935, a new commercial radio broadcasting station in Orange was officially inaugurated by the Post Master General, the Honorable Alexander MacLachlan.  The Orange station was 2GZ, which had been projected initially under the callsign 2GX.

At the time, Alexander MacLachlan was in the town of Sale in Victoria where he was participating in the opening ceremonies of another new radio station, a new government ABC station 3GI.  He participated in the opening of commercial 2GZ by landline, a distance of some 500 miles. 

During the following year (1936), station 2GZ with its 2 kW on 990 kHz announced that listeners could phone in for a free copy of their 2GZ Magazine which presented the story of how a radio station operates.  So many listeners phoned in that their telephone system was jammed for several weeks. 

Mediumwave station 2GZ is no longer on the air.  In 1996, they transferred to the FM Band 2, and their mediumwave frequency was taken over by station 2EL, which operates as a relay station for 2SM in Sydney.

Radio station 2MO in Gunnedah began as an amateur radio broadcasting station way back in the year 1923.  During the 1930s, this station developed a very popular program under the title, Songs of the Prairie; in fact this program was so popular that it was distributed throughout Australia via the telephone system so that other radio stations could also broadcast it to their own audiences.  In fact, it was noted that the telephone girls at the manual telephone exchanges throughout Australia would also listen to this radio program while on duty at their switchboards.

In 1964, the Sydney station 2UW announced over the air that they were dropping the broadcast of soap opera serials.  As a result, the station was flooded with some 50,000 telephone calls from listeners who objected, and wanted the serials re-instated.

In 1952, station 2LM in Lismore made an appeal over the air for the benefit of two children who lost their parents in a car accident.  So many listeners responded that the telephone system in this country city was overloaded, and literally, it blew up.

All of these interesting radio and telephone stories are based upon information in the excellent book on Australian Radio History by Dr. Bruce Carty, together with additional research information.  Dr Carty has made his extensive research available for free on the internet.  Just search for Carty Radio History Australia.

Our next interesting story along these lines will tell of another overloaded telephone system that also blew up.  The Invasion of the Asian Sea Monster!
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 588)