Radio Broadcasting From Ships In The South Pacific

This article was originally prepared for broadcast over AWR in December 2001and 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 December 1st 2001. Author: Adrian Peterson

In our continuing series of topics on the subject of radio broadcasting from ships, we turn our attention now to the exotic South Pacific.

In July 1925, the United States Pacific Fleet left from its base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii for a state visit to Australia. The battleship, “West Virginia” acted as the radio control vessel for this navy tour, and it made several broadcasts directed to Australia. Just before the Pacific Fleet left Honolulu, Admiral Coontz made a speech that was relayed to local listeners by stations 2FC & 2BL in Sydney.

Over in the Northern Hemisphere, the new “Empress of Britain”, was launched in 1931 for Atlantic passenger traffic and it replaced an older vessel with the same name. Even though this new passenger vessel was owned and operated by Canadian-Pacific, nevertheless its radio apparatus was registered with English callsigns.

In the year 1932, this new and large passenger liner made a round-the-world tour, and while it was in Pacific waters, it was heard with two different callsigns and several radio broadcasts. For communication purposes, the callsign was GMBH, and for experimental broadcast and amateur communications the callsign was G6RX.

The “Empress of Britain” was heard in Australia during its communications with VLK Sydney, and also with KZGF Manila, WOO Ocean Gate New Jersey, and GBP in Rugby England. Several radio broadcasts were also heard in Australia and New Zealand, including a broadcast from the ballroom, as the radio magazine said, “for the benefit of English listeners”.

Postcards of this ship, the “Empress of Britain”, are sometimes available at postcard exhibitions.

The “Director 2” was an American schooner which left New York harbor in mid 1940 for a two year cruise into the South Pacific. The purpose of this “Fahnestock South Seas Expedition” was to record local music, to study bird life, and to make oceonographic studies in various areas of the South Pacific.

The “Director 2” was expected to be in the vicinity of the islands of Fiji in July 1940. It was also planned that this ship would make a series of 20 radio broadcasts back to the United States for re-broadcast by the NBC network. The transmitter was a 1kW unit using six different frequencies in the international communication bands.

It was announced in the pages of “Radio News” in November 1939 that another expedition was planned for the South Seas. The National Geographic Expedition would leave San Francisco on September 19 for a tour of exploration in the South Pacific. The team of specialised explorers would be on board the Coast Guard cutter, “Hamilton”, and it was planned that several relay broadcasts back to NBC would be made from remote locations in the South Pacific, including Easter Island and Pitcairn Island.

However, in the next issue of the same magazine, “Radio News”, it was announced that the planned National Geographic expedition to the South Pacific “has been called off for the duration of the war”.

The Pacific Scene, Part 2

In our continuing series of topics on radio broadcasting from ships, we return to the exotic South Pacific in the era between the two wars. In this era of experimental radio broadcasting, a large number of ships plying the oceans of the world would transmit short special programs. The wireless equipment was available and it was not in continuous usage for navigation and maritime communications.

These unique radio broadcasts were presented for the benefit of passing ships, and for the benefit of listeners located ashore on nearby land areas. Sometimes these music broadcasts were made from the old 78 rpm records, and sometimes they were presented live by the ship’s orchestra. Many of these broadcasts have gone unmentioned in the radio magazines of the day and the information is forever lost. However, some of these exotic and spontaneous broadcasts did receive brief mention in a radio magazine from some listener who happened to tune in.

One of these brief references to a ship broadcast is found in the weekly radio newspaper, “Listener In”, printed in Melbourne, Australia. This brief statement tells of radio broadcasts in early March 1927 when the passenger liner, “Franconia” made a series of broadcasts of music from the ship’s orchestra.

Nearly a decade later, back in early 1935, the schooner “Seth Parker” was in the South Seas on a geographic expedition. During its visit into the South Pacific, several radio broadcasts were made back to the United States for relay nationwide on one of the mediumwave networks. These point-to-point relays were accomplished through the radio transmitter on board the “Seth Parker” which was allocated the callsign KNRA and seven channels in the shortwave bands.

We move ahead another decade to the month of January in the year 1946. The war is over, and the Americans are making preparation for atomic tests at Bikini Atoll. American navy vessels will carry relays of these events for the Voice of America, and Royal Navy vessels from England are also patrolling these same seas.

Shortwave listeners in New Zealand and along the eastern coast of the Australian continent heard several radio program broadcasts from the ships in the British fleet. These broadcasts were sometimes for communications purposes and sometimes for the entertainment of navy personnel and they were noted in the utility bands ranging from 11 Mhz to 18 MHz.

When on air, three of these navy ships identified as Radio Romance, Radio Grenville, and Schooldame. It is suggested that these were code names, due to the fact that subsequent research reveals no navy vessels from England with these names. One of these ships, operating as Grenville, was heard with a relay of station 2KY, a commercial mediumwave station in Sydney.

During this same era, Lieutenant Eric Morley was on the air with a one hour broadcast each Sunday from Radio Australia. He was a navy officer with previous radio experience at BFBS Gibraltar. The Morley broadcasts were on the air from the 50 kW transmitter VLC in Shepparton and they were directed to the British fleet in the Pacific. It is suggested that these broadcasts from Radio Australia were occasionally relayed by some of these navy vessels on duty in the South Pacific.


South Pacific – Timeline

Year Ship Call Country Area Events
1925 Pacific Fleet USA Pacific Special broadcasts
1925 West Virginia USA Pacific Control ship
1932 Empress of Britain GMBH Canada World Tour Several broadcasts
1940 Director – 2 USA Pacific Naturalist expedition
1940 Hamilton USA Pacific Cancelled


South Pacific – References

Ship Reference
Director 2 Naturalist expedition Pacific NBC relays 1kW SW; RA373
Full details of expedition; R&H 79.11 4-40 54
RN sheet
Empress of Britain Occasional specials Asia Pacific G6RX; LI 79.23 20-2-32 52
Operated by Canadian-Pacific; LI 79.23 20-3-32 52
Atlantic GMBJ; 22.68 ISWC 7-31 8
GMBJ; AMPRD1936 94
Launched in 1931; Postcard
Hamilton South Seas Expedition; RN 11-39 40
Cancelled RN 12-39 41
Pacific Fleet Left Honolulu for Australia, broadcasts; LI 79.23 11-7-25 1
West Virginia Pacific Fleet left Honolulu for Australia July 1925; RA373
Broadcasts to Australia; LI 79.23 11-7-25 1

Time Lines

Year Date Ship Country Area Events
1927 Franconia Pacific Broadcasts by ship’s orchestra
1935 Seth Parker USA Pacific Radio broadcast back to USA
1946 Jan Romance England Pacific Navy, heard as Radio Romance
1946 Jan Grenville England Pacific Heard with relay 2KY Sydney
1946 Jan Schooldame England Pacific Royal Navy on duty in Pacific
1944-1946 Shepparton Australia Pacific Morely relay to Pacific Fleet

Radio Broadcasting from Ships – Pacific 2


Ships Information & References
Broadcasts by ship’s orchestra; Notebook 79.217B 36 LI 12-3-27

12640 kHz, from Fleet HQ; R&H 77.10 2-46 36
14400 relay 2KY Sydney; R&H 77.10 2-46 36

Radio Romance 11010 kHz; R&H 77.10 2-46 36

Royal Navy
Transmissions, broadcasts & relays; R&H 77.10 2-46 36

12630 kHz; R&H 77.10 2-46 36

Seth Parker
KNRA 7 channels; SWL Feb-Mar 1935 RD 41& 43

Shepparton – Radio Australia
British Pacific Programme on Radio Australia since 1944; BFBS 84.445 59
Morley with later BBC broadcasts to Royal Navy in Pacific; BFBS 84.445 59
Relay BBC via VLC4 one hour Sundays 15315; RN 1-46 86
May 13 – July 30 1945 VLC relay BBC to Fleet in Pacific; AMP RA 236
July 30 – end Dec 1945, Morley with program to Pacific Fleet; AMP RA thesis


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