Tasmanian Whales Stranded Again, and Four Mediumwave Stations

Back two years ago, in the middle of September 2020, the largest stranding of whales in the known history of Australia took place on the west coast of the island state of Tasmania.  That tragic event occurred near Ocean Beach and Macquarie Harbour, and it resulted in the death of 400 Pilot Whales, though 100 were coaxed and cajoled back into the deeper ocean waters.

Exactly two years later, to the very day, the same tragic event, the mass stranding of whales, occurred again, at the same location, Ocean Beach and Macquarie Harbour, on the west coast of the island of Tasmania.  On this second occasion, in the middle of September 2022, 230 Pilot Whales were stranded, ashore and in shallow water, and tragically, only 35 survived in spite of concerted rescue efforts. 

On that first occasion two years ago, we presented the parallel story of the two mediumwave stations in the nearby town of Queenstown; the ABC 7QN-7RN and the commercial 7QT-7XS.  On this occasion, let us present another parallel story of two more mediumwave stations on the island of Tasmania; two double commercial stations (7UV & 7AD and 7DY & 7SD) in country areas to the north of the island.

Radio station 7UV was the first radio broadcasting station that was established in the northwest coastal area of Tasmania.  The government PMG Department issued the license for 7UV on September 30, 1931; station authorities made a search for a suitable location over the first weekend in December (1931); and the station was inaugurated in a special broadcast on August 6 of the following year (1932).

7UV Ulverstone issued this listener QSL card in the 1930s.
© Eric Shackle Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

The radio equipment for the new radio station was installed in a private home at 116 Queen Street in Ulverstone (quite close to the seashore) by the Findlay family from mediumwave station 7LA in Launceston (LON-SESS-ton).  The office secretary and personality announcer was Miss K. Andrews, a member of a prominent local family.  The station often carried advertising on behalf of commercial companies in Melbourne due to excellent propagation into the Gippsland (Gips-land) farming areas of country Victoria.

Soon afterwards, the studios were transferred into the Town Hall on Reibey Street, and the low power transmitter on 1160 kHz was installed atop a low hill at Gawler, just a mile or two south of Ulverstone.  A small temporary studio was incorporated into the transmitter hut.

The two aerial masts stood at 200 feet apart.  However, due to difficult local coverage, the height of the two aerial masts was extended by 50 feet some time later.

One year after 7UV was opened (1933), it was bought by the all night station 3AK in Melbourne, which was licensed back then to broadcast only during the hours of darkness.  The transmitter power at 7UV was increased to 300 watts, and the frequency was changed to 1460 kHz, and one year later again (1934) it was changed to 900 kHz.

But change was coming.  In 1938, the station was sold to the same Findlay company at 7LA who had helped establish the station seven years earlier.  They built up a new transmitter facility at Don Heads, 5 miles northwest of the growing bustling town of Devonport, and they installed a remote studio in the Returned Servicemen’s League building in Rooke Street Devonport.

After 7UV at Ulverstone signed off for the night on Friday evening March 8, 1940, the station engineers hurriedly removed the already renovated 300 watt transmitter, trucked it to the new site at Don Heads, and installed it ready to begin the new broadcast day, under a new callsign 7AD.  (Initially the projected callsign was 7DN.)  The AD in 7AD referred to ADvertising Devonport, and the ADvocate newspaper.

At 8:00 pm on the next day (Saturday March 9, 1940) the 7UV Ulverstone studio signed off for the last time, and the new 7AD took over in its already established remote studio in Devonport.  The newly elected State Premier, the Honorable Mr. R. Cosgrove, delightedly opened the new station as his first official duty in office.

7AD Devonport issued this listener QSL card in 1970.
© David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

As time went by the new 7AD grew and changed:- 

  • In 1952 there was an increase in power to 500 watts, still on 900 kHz.
  • In 1953 the studios were transferred into the Launceston Bank Building in Rooke Street.
  • A decade later, a new 2 kW transmitter was installed, and by this time a single tall tower was in use.
  • Three years ago (2019), MW 7AD transferred into the FM band on 98.9 MHz, at 2 Hillcrest Road.

Gone was the long remembered mediumwave pair, 7UV-7AD, that had served the north west coast of Tasmania with its bright cheery programming for a lengthy 87 years of significant radio history.

Let’s listen now to an old melody with the title, Who’s Been Polishing the Sun?  This song was the theme music for the Sunpolishers Club, a children’s club fostered by the staff at radio station 7DY, in Derby, Northwestern Tasmania.  The total membership in the Sunpolisher’s Club was high, considerably more than 6,000 children.

We cross over now to the other pair of radio stations that went through a similar cycle as did 7UV-7AD in Ulverstone and Devonport in northwestern Tasmania.  That second pair of regional mediumwave stations were 7DY and 7SD in Derby and Scottsdale in northeastern Tasmania.

Station 7DY was installed into a private homestead in typical farm country near Derby and Winnaleah in northeastern Tasmania.  The town of Derby was remembered for two significant events.

At the height of its success in the middle of last century, the open cut Tin Mine near Derby was the most prosperous tin mine in the world.  However when the lode was diminished, the mine was closed and many local families migrated elsewhere.

Then in early April 1929, heavy rains and flooding scourged all of the island state of Tasmania, with the most disastrous results in the northeast.  The Derby Flood of early April 1929 has been described as the worst natural disaster in the history of Tasmania.  We quote a report in the Hobart (HOE-BART) daily newspaper, the Mercury:-

Thousands of tons of water rushed at terrific speed down the narrow gorge to the township, uprooting trees and moving boulders of many tons weight as it passed.  The first warning was given by the Assistant Manager of the mine (Mr. W. A. Beamish) as the waters came in sight, traveling at terrible speed, and Mr. Beamish, who is numbered among the seven men who were  reported last night to be missing, was able to warn only those people who were in the mines  office before it was overwhelmed, and he himself was carried away.                                             

Another historic report stated:-

On the 4th April 1929, following record rainfall, the dam which provided the water used by the Briseis Tin Mine collapsed and a wall of water up to a hundred feet high surged towards the town.  The volume of water was so huge that it caused the Ringarooma River to reverse the direction of its flow as far as Branxholm about five miles upstream. 

The small commercial radio station 7DY was installed into a country farmhouse on Station Road between Derby and Winnaleah and it was officially opened by the Tasmanian State Premier the Honorable Mr. A. G. Ogilvie on February 26, 1938.  The station was owned by Doug Charlton and the Findlay family at 7LA in Launceston.

 The new 7DY was licensed for 100 watts on 1400 kHz, though initially it was on the air unofficially on 1390 kHz with a borrowed crystal from station 7BU in Burnie.  Later that same year the power level was increased to 200 watts; and in 1941, the station channel was moved to 1450 kHz.

7DY Derby issued this listener QSL card in 1945.
© Keith Robinson Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

In September 1944, station 7DY applied for a license to broadcast from a location in central Tasmania at a high power level that would cover the whole island.  Approval was granted for the station to move to that location, though it was required to operate at the same low power level (200 watts) and on the same frequency (1450 kHz) already in use.  Because of the untenable requirements, station 7DY remained where it was, at Derby, at least for the next few years.

In 1952, the power level was increased to 500 watts, and soon afterwards they requested another move, this time to the large city of Launceston, a request that was denied.  Following that unsuccessful event, they then requested a move to Scottsdale which actually was approved.  The tin mine at Derby was closed, and the population was diminished; but nearby Scottsdale was growing.

The new 7SD at Scottsdale was officially opened by the State Premier, the Honorable Robert Cosgrove, the same premier who had opened 7AD at Devonport 14 years earlier.  The opening ceremony on Monday evening September 13, 1954 was staged in Mechanics Hall in Scottsdale and among the many participants were eighteen local musicians, instrumental and vocal.

Initially, the 7DY transmitter at Derby with 500 watts on 1450 kHz was transferred to the new location at Lister’s Lane in Scottsdale where it was activated with the new callsign 7SD.  The studios were installed in King Street.

7SD FM logo from station website

In 1958 the operating channel was changed from 1450 kHz to 540 kHz; and in mid 1962, a new 2 kW transmitter was installed, at a new location in North Scottsdale.  In 1975, 7SD underwent a power increase to 5 kW.

However change was coming.  Two years ago (2020), the 7SD mediumwave transmitter was closed, the studios were transferred from Scottsdale to the larger city of Launceston, and the station sprouted three new FM outlets; 95.7 MHz in Scottsdale, 105.1 MHz in St Mary’s, and 92.1 MHz in St Helens.

The studio building in Scottsdale was sold to Sheryl Martin in November (2020) and she opened the building as a new Bric a brac (historic souvenirs) store under the title, The Old Clock on the Wall.  Sheryl has thus epitomized the time call that announcer Bert Scetrine used to make over the old 7DY as he announced the time.  The left over 7SD radio equipment in the building was transported to the Grant Broadcasters building in Ballarat, Victoria, for subsequent display as an important historic old mediumwave radio station. 

Gone also was that long remembered mediumwave pair 7DY-7SD, that had served the north east area of Tasmania with its bright cheery programming for a lengthy 82 years of significant radio history.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of October 23, 2022

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