Perth Shortwave Radio

by Adrian Peterson

It was on October 19, 1939 that the first test transmissions went on the air from the new ABC shortwave station at Wanneroo (won-e-ROO, the first syllable rhymes with Don) in Western Australia, just 64 years ago today. The station is long since gone, but the story is still very interesting

The Waneroo station was established out in a country area some fifteen miles north west of the state capital, Perth, and it was originally designed for use as a large mediumwave facility. The first transmitter at this new site was a 5 kW unit for mediumwave 6WF in Perth and this was installed in 1932.

Then in 1939, another ABC station, 6WN, was transferred from its city location atop the GPO building and installed as a 2 kW unit at Wanneroo. Simultaneously, another 2 kW transmitter was also installed at Waneroo for coverage of outback areas in Western Australia and this was the shortwave unit VLW.

Map of Western Australia shows Wanneroo site.
© Cleve Costello Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.
Listener confirmation card from 6WF Wanneroo in 1934. 5kW, 690kc.
© Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.
Listener confirmation card for VLW Wanneroo in 1947.
© Cleve Costello Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

The first test broadcasts from the new shortwave transmitter went on the air with a relay from the two mediumwave stations on October 19, 1939, and the first test broadcasts to Africa with programming from the new “Australia Calling” went on the air a few weeks later, on January 24. However, the new service to Africa was terminated just one year later, due to the fact that it was difficult to obtain an experienced announcer in the Afrikaans language, and also because of unreliable coverage in Africa from the low powered 2 kW transmitter.

Letter from ABC Manager WA details VLX services in 1949.
© Cleve Costello Collection, Radio Heritage Collection

In October, test transmissions were run for coverage into Indonesia, but these also suffered from interference and unreliable coverage.

Listener confirmation card for VLX Wanneroo in 1951.
© Cleve Costello Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

In 1959, the entire station was rebuilt and three shortwave transmitters were installed, two at 10 kW and one at 50 kW. These three units were on the air under the two callsigns, VLW & VLX, and at times, the programming from Radio Australia in Melbourne was relayed by all three of these transmitters for coverage into Africa and Asia. Ten years later, the VLX callsign was amalgamated into VLW, due to the fact that all three shortwave transmitters were at times on the air simultaneously with the same ABC programming.

First QSL card issued for VLX2 Wanneroo in 1949. © Cleve Costello Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

Towards the end of 1993, the ABC announced that they planned on closing the VLW shortwave service. The equipment was now very old, housing estates were encroaching on the Wanneroo site, and the number of listeners in the outback areas had dwindled due to alternative methods of radio and TV delivery.

The first closure date was announced for December 14, 1993. However, several hundred listeners in the north west objected to the closure of their only ABC radio coverage, and the date was extended for a few more weeks, so that alternative radio coverage could be explored. The final closure date was January 21, 1994 at 2200 UTC. And that was the end of VLW, the ABC shortwave service for the outback areas of Western Australia.

Map of WA showing Wanneroo site forms part of QSL card for 6WF in 1971, 50kW, 720kc.
© David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.
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