From Galahs to Cyclones

The article now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to South Pacific DX Resource hosted on for a period of five years from October 1st 2001. Author: David Ricquish

The Story of 8DR Darwin

5DR 1440 AAAS Radio

The first transmitter was operated by the Australian Army Amenities Service, and the PMG’s Department looked after the technical side of the operations. The transmitter went on the air in June 1945 on 1440 kHz under the callsign 5DR.

At that stage, the Northern Territory was run by South Australia, the 5th call area, hence 5DR. In July 1945, a new frequency, 1500 kHz was allocated with a 250 watt transmitter. The Army transmitter closed down in February 1946 when the Army moved out of the Territory, and the transmitter was apparently placed in storage.

The Army had their HQ down at Adelaide River, 72 miles south of Darwin during the time when the Japanese dropped their bombs on the Top End of Australia. A 5DR transmitter was to be put into service in Adelaide River, but the end of WWII was in sight, and this project was scrapped.

5DR 1500 ABC Radio

In March 1947, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), reopened broadcasting from 5DR with a pair of Army 200 watt transmitters, one for standby. These had a jack for CW, not used. ….the PMG’s Department running the technical side of the broadcasting.

Those days, there was no programme line to Adelaide, so at the beginning, all programmes originated in Darwin. A programme line was opened in November 1948, and some news bulletins and other programmes were retransmitted over 5DR. The installation of a receiver site (which previously housed the 5DR transmitter) provided news bulletins from Brisbane, and also back-up for other programmes as the landline was not very reliable.

Hundreds Of Galah Birds Short The Landline

In the windy periods south of Alice Springs/north of Port Augusta, the sand drifts used to cover the wires. There was also a problem with galahs, hundreds of them used to land on the wires which were weighted down and shorted out.

The Saturday sporting programmes were received on receivers from Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Radio Australia, and rebroadcast over 5DR. At this stage, only one ABC newsman was stationed in Darwin, so only one local news bulletin was broadcast.

Corrugated Iron Ex-Army Hut Studios

In December 1955, a new transmitter, 2kW, and a vertical antenna were put into service in Blake Street, Stuart Park. The studios (2), transmitter room, and offices and workshop were two corrugated iron army buildings joined together. No windows, but the old type shutters. Windows were added at a later stage. The rear of the building was only about 10 feet from a 50 foot cliff drop with big trees and birdlife. During daytime, when the microphone was open, there was always some bird performing on the air.

The landline improved over the years, and more and more programmes from Adelaide were used. Also, a new ‘J’ system was put into use between Adelaide and Darwin with better frequency response. The Alice Springs transmitter was also fed with this system.

Darwin-Alice Springs Relays Reverse

Some ten repeaters with reversible in and outputs to amplifiers were used so programmes could be sent to the Alice Springs transmitter. During geo-magnetic disturbances, an opposing voltage to the 50V holding relays in place, was inducted, at time causing relays halfway to Alice Springs to reverse at a couple of repeaters so no programme from north or south was the result. This had the experts tricked for a while.

On the 22nd of March 1959, the frequency was changed to 650 kHz. This is when commercial broadcasting came into being, and they got the use of the high end of the dial. By the way, Blake Street was named after the first ABC representative here in Darwin.

8DR 650 ABC Radio

On the 5th of July 1960, the Northern Territory was separated from the 5th call area, so 5DR became 8DR. In 1963, the 8DR vertical antenna and transmitter was shifted to Fannie Bay, Douglas Street, to make way for the TV antenna and transmitter buildings. On the 1st of August, 1966, the new ABC studios in the town area were completed and technical staff transferred from PMG to the ABC, and began broadcasting from these new studios at opening time on the 1st of August, 1966. These studios had the most modern switching gear of any ABC studios at the time.

The old studios on the hill in Blake Street have now gone, and made way for PINT Club (Postal Institute Northern Territory) recreation area.

A Terrible Christmas Present From Cyclone Tracy

During Cyclone Tracy, Christmas Eve – Christmas Day 1974, the transmitter got partly flooded and the electrical connections at the bottom of the transmitter had to be lifted up and rejoined before transmitters could be put back on air. There was also some damage to the top loading of the antenna which was caused by flying roofs and timber. This was also fixed in a short period of time and transmission was back on air. Hooray!

The transmitter was urgently needed on air for all sorts of information to the public, all the 30,000 people to be evacuated had to have their names called so they would know when to go to the airport. The studios were not badly damaged, but the offices above lost the roof so water was floating around everywhere but didn’t get into cabling.

8DR Via Radio Australia, Shepparton

Programme was fed to 8DR via TV studio coaxcable to the Blake Street TV transmitter building and from there, fed to the 8DR transmitter, and also a feed to the Radio Australia transmitters at Shepparton which was used to relay 8DR programmes so as to keep the rest of Australia informed on the evacuation and other problems.

Microwave Links expand NT Network

The microwave link between Darwin-Mt Isa-Townsville-Brisbane and the rest of Australia wasn’t damaged, so there was no delay in sending and receiving programmes to and from the south. The microwave link is now used to receive programmes from any part of Australia. It’s also used to send programmes to Alice Springs 8AL, Tennant Creek 8TC, Katherine 8KN.

8GO Gove and 8JB Jabiru are fed via troposcatter link from Darwin-Milingimbi-Gove and Milingimbi-Jabiru.

In 1982, the Darwin studios will be renovated and added to with facilities for more networks and satellite relay, and also more transmitters as the funds become available.


1. This very detailed letter accompanied QSL cards for reception in October 1981 of 8DR, 8AL, 8GO and 8TC during one fine morning of DX from the Robin Chambers ‘antenna farm’ at Opunake, in Taranaki on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The writer was Henry VK8HA ‘for the ABC Darwin.
2. Coming soon, listen to 8DR via Shepparton on Boxing Day, December 26 1974 as recorded in Wellington, New Zealand live off air during emergency broadcasts.

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