Visiting Radio Stations – World War 2 Era
by Adrian Peterson
During the era of World War 2, many restrictions were placed upon us as citizens of Australia. There were shortages of gasoline and clothing and food, all of which were rationed for various periods of time. I was a little taller than many other lads my age and so my parents were granted a double allowance of clothing coupons for me. Some foods were rationed and these changed hands occasionally on the black market for exorbitant prices. Then too, petrol coupons for private motorists allowed only a few miles per week and so enterprising country folk would then illegally burn kerosene in their motors As a very early teenager I marveled at the sight of the entire engine block in a pre-war truck, Chevy or Ford, glowing a dull red in the darkness of the early evening.
There were also many other restrictions during that era, including entrance into the facilities of a radio station. Yet, strangely enough, I was granted the opportunity of visiting into all five of the mediumwave stations that were on the air in Adelaide in South Australia at the time. Let me tell you how it happened.
The twin ABC stations, 5CL & 5AN, had an interesting beginning. The history of 5CL goes back to the year 1924 when a small 20 watt transmitter was installed temporarily at a downtown location for the purpose of broadcasting election results under the callsign 5AB. A commercial enterprise took over the license and transferred the facility to the Grosvenor Hotel, right across from the railway station on North Terrace in Adelaide. This unit went on the air under the old callsign 5AB and as soon as the new license came through, the call was changed to 5CL, taken from the company name, Central Broadcasters Ltd. The studios were soon afterwards transferred to a new location in Hindmarsh Square, a new transmitter was installed at a new location adjacent to the airport in suburban Brooklyn Park, and the government took the station over for the ABC network. Test transmissions for the new 5CL at Brooklyn Park were carried out in 1925 under the temporary callsign, 5MI.
The other ABC station, 5AN, began its broadcast career in 1937 with the antenna tower located at the GPO, General Post Office, in the center of downtown Adelaide. Five years later, during the last full year of the war, a new higher powered transmitter was installed in a second building, co-sited with its sister station, 5CL I remember this transfer which was given good coverage in the state-wide radio newspaper, “Radio Call”. The event was considered to be quite significant at the time.
So, how did I get into the ABC facilities during the restrictions of World War 2? Well, I went to their studio location in Hindmarsh Square one Saturday morning, just to look at the building. It so happened that a group of school children on a school excursion were just about to begin a guided tour of the facility. One of the authorities irritatedly asked me why was I so late and he hurried me into the building to join the school group, of which, I was not a part anyway!
That was the ABC studios for both 5CL & 5AN, and I often saw the 5AN tower at the GPO. Even though I sometimes went out to Brooklyn Park, I never did get inside the two buildings to see the transmitter facilities. On a few occasions, I also ate at the restaurant in the Grosvenor Hotel, the early location for 5AB-5CL, and I marveled at the revelation of early radio history in my capital city. And, just in case you are interested, the Grosvenor Restaurant served very delicious milk shakes.
Radio station 5DN always claimed to be the “First Station in the State” and when I first tuned it in on the family radio, it was located on the top 12th floor of the downtown CML building, both studios and transmitter. Back then, the twin masts on the top of the building were a city landmark. This station also began as an experimental unit with the progressively allocated callsign, 5DN. The license was sold to a radio entrepreneur who re-constructed the station in his suburban home. When the station became commercially viable, it was rebuilt and installed in the tall CML building, which was a popular concept in those days, both in the United States as well as in Australia.
During the war years, the management of station 5DN installed an electronic system and each person entering the station had to make certain complicated hand movements in order to gain entry. So, how did I get into 5DN? No problem, I had a friend who was employed there as a trainee technician, and he took me in. The transmitter was located in a narrow passageway and you had to be very careful not to knock any of the controls as you walked passed it.
Station 5KA was another pioneer station in Adelaide and it also began its career in a nearby suburban locality. A few years later, the station was moved to a downtown location near to where all of the other radio stations in the state capital were located. Early in the war, the station license was cancelled on suspicion of broadcasting subversive information. That was in 1941, and three years later, the station was re-opened with new equipment at a new location, in the Central Methodist headquarters. The first antenna, before the lattice tower was installed, was simply a long wire running up the church steeple.
So, how did I get into this station? No problem, the manager was a member of the newly re-formed South Australian branch of the Australian DX Radio Club and the monthly meetings were held in one of the studios at the station.
All five of the mediumwave stations in Adelaide during the era of World War 2 were located within close walking distance to each other. Station 5AD was installed in the buildings which housed the editorial offices and printing machinery for the Adelaide “Advertiser”, hence the callsign. When you walked into the Advertiser office, you could also see the entryway to the studios of 5AD, where two of their transmitters were located. Their two antenna masts were located on top of the two Advertiser buildings. One of the transmitters was their regular mediumwave unit for local coverage and the other unit was in storage. It was a shortwave transmitter that was used during the late 1930s to relay the programming from 5AD to distant areas under the callsign VK5DI. By the time I came onto the scene, the war had begun and the experimental shortwave unit was closed down; forever, as it turned out to be.
The old QSL cards from each of these city radio stations, 5CL-5AN, 5DN, 5KA and 5AD, are current reminders of the fascinating history of the radio stations that I visited in my state capital, Adelaide during those critical war years. No, I have never seen a QSL card from the pioneer 5AB, nor the temporary 5MI, nor the shortwave VK5DI.
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.
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