Three International Radio Weddings

The first international radio wedding in our program today took place in Perth Western Australia on Saturday October 2, 1926, and it was described at the time as the first radio wedding in the history of Western Australia.  Back during that era, many radio weddings were broadcast live on radio in many parts of the world, and they were sometimes described as a publicity stunt to gain an increase in listenership.

However not all radio weddings were just simply a publicity stunt, and the 1926 wedding in Perth Western Australia carried a historic significance.  The bride was Miss Dorothy Brown and she was employed by the quite new commercial radio broadcasting station 6WF, the first station in the state.

That station 6WF had been inaugurated just two years earlier during the evening of Wednesday June 4, 1924.  The station was installed in the Westralian Farmers Building (hence the callsign 6WF) and the Chief Engineer was Walter Coxon who had made the first radio broadcast in Australia back six years earlier at the 1918 Royal Show in Perth.  His experimental demonstration of radio programming was broadcast, and received, across the width of the show grounds.

6WF as it was by 1933. Photos: Old Australian Telephones website.

When 6WF was inaugurated, the 100 watt transmitter was tuned to 240 kHz longwave, and it was claimed (incorrectly we might add) that it would provide adequate coverage throughout the state of Western Australia, the territory of which extends to one third of the entire continent.  The station was inaugurated by the state Premier, Mr. Philip Collier.

St Andrew’s Church, now dominated by modern Perth. Photo: Heritage Perth

The October radio wedding that was broadcast live by longwave commercial 6WF was conducted in the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at 36 St George’s Terrace in Perth, and the groom was Jack Hallam, a young member of a prominent business family in Perth.  Jack was also a highly successful photographer back during that era, and he himself staged all of the photography at his own wedding.

The ornate wedding cake at the reception in the large church hall featured actually two separate cakes that were connected with a small double antenna system, which was symbolic for the bride Dorothy and her employment in the 6WF radio station.  That was the story of the first radio wedding in Western Australia, and the station is still on the air to this day, as ABC Regional Radio 6WF, with 50 kW on 720 kHz.

Our second international radio wedding in this edition of Wavescan takes us to Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.  The studios for the new commercially operated radio station with the familiar callsign 2YA were installed in the Wellesley Club Building at the corner of Waring Taylor and Featherstone Streets, and the 5 kW transmitter also on 720 kHz was installed at the top of Mt Victoria in a very strong cement building that would withstand heavy windstorms.  Two strong self-supporting towers carried the antenna system.

2YA atop Mount Victoria, circa 1930. Alexander Turnbull Library 1/2-046043-G
The Wellesley Club Building in modern times: Photo: Wellington Heritage

At the time, it was intended that 2YA would provide adequate radio coverage for the entire dominion, over both islands.  However it was soon discovered that coverage on the west side of the South Island was inadequate due to the high mountain range, and listeners there obtained their radio programming from mediumwave radio stations in Australia, those that were near the eastern coast of the Australian mainland and on the island of Tasmania.

The first broadcast from 2YA in Wellington New Zealand was a test transmission on July 9, 1927 with a sports commentary on the Ranfurly Shield match between Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa.  The station was officially inaugurated by the Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Mr. J. G. Coates, just one week later, on July 16 (1927).

Gwen & Bruce on their wedding day. Photo: Te Ara

One of the most popular announcers on 2YA back then was school teacher Miss Gwen Shepherd who addressed children of all ages as Auntie Gwen.  The 37 year old high profile radio celebrity was married to the Australian born businessman Mr. Bruce Stennett at St Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington on Wednesday January 29, 1930. 

It is stated that 2,000 people attended the wedding ceremony, hundreds or maybe thousands of children lined the streets for the wedding processions, and 30,000 heard the wedding service on radio.  Auntie Gwen, that is the now Mrs Gwen Stennett, broadcast a message of good will over 2YA to all of her radio children all over New Zealand from the location of the wedding reception.  That was the story of the first radio wedding in New Zealand.

Our third radio wedding in this edition of International Radio Weddings in Wavescan took place during the middle of last century.  There was an American sailor during the tragic events of World War 2, and wedding plans were made for him and his wife to be, Miss Dorothy Springer, who lived in Washington Pennsylvania.  However, the sailor was suddenly shipped out to sea, and unfortunately, there was no wedding.

His ship served in the Pacific during World War 2, and it was sunk by enemy action.  His fiancee Dorothy Springer received word that he had died along with so many others in the loss of the American navy vessel.  However, unknown was the fact that in reality, he was taken prisoner by Japanese forces, and he was still alive.

WJPA’s storefront on Main St. and East Wheeling St. in Washington, Pennsylvania. By Generic1139 – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link

After the end of the Pacific War, the sailor was repatriated back to the United States, where he spent some time in hospital recuperating from his wartime experiences.  His thoughts went back to his bride-to-be but he no longer had her address.  While reading a magazine in the hospital, he came across the name of a person living in Washington Pennsylvania, so he wrote a letter, asking could he find Dorothy.

When the Washington resident received the letter from the convalescing sailor, he took it to mediumwave radio station WJPA in Washington (Pennsylvania), and showed it to news editor Stan Progar.  Radio station WJPA placed an announcement in their radio programming, asking for contact with Dorothy Springer.  Within an hour, she responded.  Yes, they made renewed plans for a wedding, and radio station WJPA did broadcast the event live.

Mediumwave radio station WJPA was inaugurated in the George Washington Hotel with 250 watts on 1450 kHz in February 1942, just four years before the postwar wedding episode.  These days, this station is still on the air under its original callsign WJPA, and on its original channel 1450 kHz, though now with 1 kW.  They now operate from their own storefront location at the corner of Main and East Wheeling Streets, and the transmitter is located just a little out of town to the north.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of December 26, 2021

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