Lighthouse Radio in Australia

One of the oft repeated humorous legends associated with the development of radar during the middle of last century is the story of an American navy ship and a lighthouse.  This is what happened, under the title, Check Your Bearings.

A radio voice is heard declaring that our radar has you an American navy vessel on a collision course with us.  You should alter your course 10 degrees south.

A second radio voice is heard declaring that we have you on our radar.  We suggest that you should alter your course 10 degrees north.

The first radio voice then comes on again and declares that we have Admiral Goodman aboard.  We strongly suggest that you bear 10 degrees south, this is an American navy battleship!

Again, the second radio voice is heard once more, declaring that this is Seaman Farnsworth.  We still suggest you bear 10 degrees  north.  This is a lighthouse!

According to radio historians in California, that humor story was actually based on fact, though it was modified a little to bring out the fun side.  This is what happened.

Angels Gate Light. Photo: Los Angeles Maritime Museum

Back during the year 1913, a small building was erected as a lighthouse on a forty foot slab of concrete known as Angel’s Gate Lighthouse.  This was the world’s second smallest radio island anywhere, and a wireless transmitter was installed to serve as a radio beacon.

A curved breakwater was constructed in Los Angeles Harbor and it snaked out to join the Angel’s Gate Lighthouse to the mainland.  Some time during the 1930s, an American navy vessel actually did strike this small radio island, thus ultimately giving rise to the interesting humor story.  This radio lighthouse at Angel’s Gate was rebuilt in 2012, and it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

We now cross over to Australia, for the introduction of wireless and radio for use in communicating with various lighthouses spread out along the Australian coastline.  The second lighthouse in the waters of South Australia was constructed on Althorpe Island in 1879, and in 1925, the appointed lighthouse manger took his own informal amateur radio equipment ashore with him.  He communicated with mediumwave broadcasting station 5CL in Adelaide, and conveyed his appreciation for the broadcast of their radio programming.

Althorpe Lighthouse and keepers’ cottages, 1920s. Photo: Flinders Ranges Research

During World War 2, an  Alfred Traeger pedal wireless station was installed at the Althorpe Lighthouse and this was in use for communicating with the a similar wireless transmitter at the Cape Borda Lighthouse.  That wireless service was closed out during the 1950s.

However in the mid 1920s, there was an official concerted effort to interconnect voice and Morse Code transmissions for the benefit of lonely personnel who were stationed at isolated lighthouses, and the first official steps were taken for the benefit of lighthouse personnel off the coast of the small Australian state of Victoria.

Cliffy Island Lighthouse. Photo: Lighthouses of Australia Inc

The Cliffy Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1884, and a wireless set was installed at the lighthouse in 1926 under the callsign 3CI.  The transmitter was a 250 watt AWA unit, and it was called into use for communicating directly with the key station 3WP at Wilson’s Promontory, a distance of 17 miles.

Station 3CI Cliffy Island was the first official wireless installation for the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service, with its headquarters in the city of Melbourne.  That was was back when the city of Melbourne was the temporary national capital, before the construction of the city of Canberra as the new capital.  The Cliffy Lighthouse was demanned in 1971.

The second official wireless/radio service was installed at the Deal Island Lighthouse with 250 watts under the callsign 3LD.  This station also communicated directly with 3WP at Wilson’s Promontory, a distance of 49 miles.  The equipment for each of these three early and official wireless/radio stations was constructed by AWA, and they were all similar in design and construction to the equipment in use on trawlers plying along the coast of New South Wales.

Radio station 3WP at Wilson’s Promontory had a double advantage.  They could communicate directly by radio with 3CI on Cliffy Island and also with 3LD on Deal Island, and they could also communicate directly with headquarters in Melbourne by landline telegraph.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of July 10, 2022

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