Monday, January 05, 2015

The Story of Australian Shortwave Callsigns: VLA

Special thanks to Wavescan for sharing their program on Australian shortwave callsigns ... 

    In our program today, we present the first topic in a series on shortwave callsigns in Australia.  Each of these callsigns begins with the two letters VL followed by another letter in the English alphabet, in progressive order from A to Z.  Here today, as we begin this long sequence of interesting radio information, we present the fascinating story of the callsign VLA.        
            Back more than one hundred years ago, two wireless stations were under construction in New Zealand.  The electrical equipment for these two coastal communication stations was manufactured by the Telefunken company in Germany, and German technicians were performing the installation procedures under the auspices of the Australasian Wireless Company in Sydney Australia.
            The first of these two wireless stations, at least in alphabetic order, was located at the edge of Doubtless Bay, near Awanui, right at the very tip of the North Island of New Zealand.  This new wireless station was installed on a 100 acre site; the triangular mild steel antenna tower weighed 60 tons and it stood at 400 ft high, resting on a ball and socket joint on a glass insulator; and 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 under the original callsign, NZA, standing for New Zealand station A at Awanui and Auckland.  It was taken into regular service at the end of the same year, December 18, and by that time the callsign had been modified from NZA to VLA, due to new international wireless regulations.
             In 1924, the electrical equipment at station VLA was changed from spark gap operation to electronic valve or tube operation.  Then in 1927 the callsign was again amended, this time from VLA to ZLA, due again to a change in international radio regulations.  The station was ultimately closed on February 10, 1930 when its communication service was no longer needed.
Bruny Island Lighthouse (
       And then a few months later, we find the callsign VLA in use on Bruny Island, a small island located near the south east coast of the Australian island state of Tasmania.  The island is very rugged and its shape is very irregular, and in reality, it is more like two separated islands joined by a very narrow isthmus.  Bruny Island is named in honor of the French explorer Bruni dEntrecasteaux. 
            When European explorers first came to the area, the twin islands were inhabited by a small tribe of Tasmanian Aborigines.  The landmark Lighthouse, now a tourist attraction, was built in 1838 at the very bottom tip of South Bruny Island, facing Antarctica. 
            A small communication radio station was installed at the lighthouse in 1930, and the first entry in the log book is dated June 1.  Eight years late, the equipment at the radio station was updated with the installation of a pedal wireless transmitter which was powered by a generator attached to a stationary bicycle. 
             A brief report in an Australian radio magazine, dated in August 1941, gives the callsign for this small communication radio station at the Bruny Island Lighthouse as VLA, and it operated just above the standard mediumwave band, as it was at the time, on 1579 kHz.
            During the war, the callsign VLA was unassigned from the small communication radio station on Bruny Island and 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 planned allocation of callsigns was VLA, VLC & VLM.
            The driver and preliminary stages for the new VLA transmitter were constructed in Australia by AWA and the modulator and final stages were constructed by STC, the Standard Telephones and Cables, both in suburban Sydney.  The VLA transmitter, with its two channel input allowing for quick frequency change, was activated on August 13, 1945, and it was taken into scheduled service two days later, August 15. 
            A postfix number after the callsign, such as VLA3 VLA6 or VLA8, 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.
            In 1961, the VLA transmitter was bifurcated, and with the insertion of additional electronic equipment, a complete new transmitter became available, and it was assigned a new callsign VLF.  The original VLA transmitter was withdrawn from service in 1983.
            Also at the end of the same year in which VLA was bifurcated, Radio Australia dropped the usage of official callsigns, and instead the callsign VLA identified a specific program line from the Melbourne studios to the transmitter site at Shepparton.  To this day, the identification A or VLA still refers to the specific program line that runs to Shepparton, and not necessarily a specific transmitter. 
            Radio Australia was a prolific verifier of reception reports and literally thousands of QSL cards under the callsign VLA 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 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, Radio Australia, 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 VLA  together with the frequency and transmitter location as Shepparton.  

 (AWR Wavescan/NWS 306)