Radio to the Rescue in Coastal Flooding
by Adrian Petersen
Back around the middle of last century, it seemed that there was almost constant seasonal flooding along the northern coastal areas of New South Wales in Australia. At the time, I was a student at a theological college, inland from the coast, between Sydney the state capital and the large regional city Newcastle.
Some ten years earlier I had learned the delights of radio listening, mediumwave and shortwave, from my uncle Max Mudie whose DX reports were often quoted in the radio magazines “down under” during that era. In fact, my first QSL was a small letter from the country commercial station 2WG in Wagga Wagga, NSW, with 2 kW on 1150 kHz, dated July 2, 1944. At the time, I was living in a small country town out from Adelaide in South Australia; the distant radio station was heard during the early hours of darkness; and 2 kW was the maximum power for commercial mediumwave stations in Australia.
Anyway, during that era at college, we were not allowed to operate radio receivers in our dormitory rooms during the academic year, though that regulation was relaxed during live-in vacations. During one short vacation, I borrowed a friend’s radio receiver and spent many joyful hours listening to and reporting the many mediumwave stations in New Zealand. I discovered that the long wires of the internal telephone system throughout the college campus served as a splendid antenna system for bringing in all of the mediumwave stations all across the radio dial in New Zealand.
Down in the Common Room in the Boy’s Dormitory was a multi-band console-style radio receiver, and also the daily newspaper from Sydney. When time would permit, maybe between classes or on a Saturday evening, I would go down to the Common Room, commandeer the radio receiver, and tune in to whatever stations could be heard, on both mediumwave and shortwave.
On shortwave, I heard mainly the regular international stations with their programming in English beamed to Australia, though an occasional utility station would catch my attention. In those days for example, I heard the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Broken Hill, station VJC, with 150 watts on 4130 kHz and they replied with a typed letter. On 4980 kHz I heard the Air Ambulance station, VJJ, in Cloncurry Queensland with 200 watts, and a nurse replied with a hand written letter. Then another station was VL2KD, a 20 watt communication station in use at a construction site for the new Keepit Dam in New South Wales. On mediumwave, it was quite easy to hear most of the broadcasting stations in eastern Australia and many of the broadcasting stations across the Tasman in New Zealand.
Anyway, back to our flood related radio story. The city of Murwillumbah in New South Wales is located very close to the northern border, almost in looking distance into Queensland and almost in looking distance to the Pacific coast.
In February 1954, there was massive summer flooding in the area with rivers running high. I happened to tune in to station 2MW Murwillumbah on 1440 kHz and I heard the most unusual mediumwave programming. There were two transmitters on the air, sometimes alternating and sometimes simultaneously. The 2 kW transmitter at the out-of-town base could receive no programming from the studios because the landline was cut by the flooding and they were on the air with emergency announcements only. The 100 watt emergency transmitter in the downtown studios was on the air also with emergency programming, and with frequent announcements asking the higher powered transmitter to leave the air.
I attempted to make a phone call to the station but could not get through due to downed phone lines in the flood ravaged areas. Finally, the 2 kW 2MW out in the country did leave the air leaving only the 100 watt 2MW in the city on the air with a combination of regular programming and emergency announcements.
A double reception report on the programming from each of the two transmitters on 1440 kHz produced two QSL cards from the station engineer, each endorsed for the correct power output from the two STC transmitters. These two cards were not my first from this station as I had logged it nine years earlier when it was emitting 500 watts on the previous channel 1470 kHz. Nevertheless, these two cards with their ornate red border commemorate these unusual flood broadcasts and they are valuable acquisitions in my five inch thick QSL album labelled, “Mediumwave Australia”.
- Next Month Radio to the Rescue – Internationally!
Adrian Petersen is a noted radio historian and broadcaster for many years with Indianapolis based Adventist World Radio, a global shortwave, AM, FM and satellite radio network. Originally from South Australia, Adrian has worked in radio across Asia and the Pacific and is well known worldwide for his long running Wavescan radio series. He has published an extensive number of radio heritage articles using his large database of historical information, and personally maintains the AWR heritage collection, one of the world’s largest privately held memorabilia collections.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of the Radio Heritage Foundation. Send us your column comments and feedback.