|This article was originally broadcast over AWR in their “Wavescan” program and 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 radiodx.com for a period of five years from May 1 2002. Author: Adrian Peterson|
The Australian “Kanimbla” – A unique and remarkable radio broadcasting station
Back in the days before World War 2, there were two ships in Australasian waters that were quite famous in the international radio scene. One was the “Awatea” (AH-wa-TEE-a) that plied across the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, and we will tell you the story of that ship radio station on another ocasion.
The other ship radio station was aboard the MV “Kanimbla” (ka-NIM-bla) that plied in Australian waters. Both ships were built in the United Kingdom, both were launched in the year 1936, and both were noted for the broadcast of radio programming; the “Kanimbla” as VK9MI and the “Awatea” as ZMBJ.
The notable fact about the passenger liner “Kanimbla” is that it was the only ship in the entire history of our world in which a radio broadcasting station was constructed into the ship at the time when the ship was built.
The 11,000 ton passenger liner “Kanimbla” was built at Belfast in Northern Ireland, by the famous ship building company, Harland & Wolff. The electronic equipment was manufactured by AWA in Australia and shipped to Ireland for installation while the ship was still under construction.
The “Kanimbla” was granted by the PMG Department in Australia a radio broadcasting license with the experimental callsign VK9MI and, as we mentioned earlier, it is the only ship in the world to have a radio broadcasting station incorporated into it at the time of construction.
The radio station consisted of two studios; one for group broadcasts, and the other for announcer presentation. The crystal controlled transmitter was rated at 1.5 kW, though the QSL card states that the output into the antenna system was just 50 watts. This would seem to suggest that the original broadcast transmitter mal-functioned quite early and that the broadcast programs were then radiated from the ship’s communication transmitter.
The original AWA transmitter could operate on any wavelength between 20 & 50 meters. The first test broadcast from 9MI was made on April 21, 1936 during sea trials in the Firth of Clyde.
The new MV “Kanimbla” began its delivery voyage from Northern Ireland to Australia at 4:00 am on April 26, 1936. It is reported that the radio station 9MI made four test broadcasts each day during this 15,000 mile journey to Australia.
The official inauguration of the new radio broadcasting station VK9MI was made in a special broadcast to Australia while the ship was south of the continent in the Great Australian Bight,1,000 miles from Sydney. At 8:00 pm Eastern Australian Standard Time, VK9MI went on the air shortwave and the program was picked up and relayed thoughout Australia over the ABC mediumwave network.
This inaugural broadcast from 9MI was made on 11720 kHz, though subsequently the regular channel was 6005 kHz, though this was modified in April 1939 to 6055 kHz. The at times irregular schedule from VK9MI was usually half an hour or an hour a few evenings a week. The announcer and manager was Eileen Foley, who also signed the QSL cards.
The “Kanimbla” plied with passenger traffic backwards and forwards on the southern route between Western Australia and Queensland, and the ports of call in this shuttle service were:-
Fremantle in Western Australia
Adelaide in South Australia
Melbourne in Victoria
Sydney in New South Wales; and
Brisbane & Mackay in Queensland.
The local AWA mediumwave stations on land in each of these areas frequently relayed the shortwave programming from VK9MI to the local audience. Among these stations were 2AY in Albury New South Wales, 3BO in Bendigo Victoria, and 4CA in Cairns (pronounced as in air) Queensland.
On many occasions, radio station VK9MI was heard on shortwave throughout Australia and New Zealand, and many QSL cards were signed by the famous woman announcer, Eileen Foley. As time went by, the transmitter began to malfunction and it produced a noisy wide signal in the 49 meter band.
At the outbreak of the European War at the beginning of September 1939, the radio staton VK9MI was silenced, along with all other experimental shortwave stations in Australia. The “Kanimbla” then became a troop carrier, and after the war, it was unceremoniously scrapped.
The unique ship broadcasting station VK9MI was on the air therefore for a period of just three and a half years. All that is left of this radio station these days is found in radio memorabilia, such as entries in old radio magazines, and articles and books on the history of radio broadcasting, and a few isolated QSL cards in old QSL collections.
During the entire period of on-air activity, only one QSL card was printed to verify reception reports. The Pacific Heritage Collection in Dunedin holds a few copies of this exotic QSL card, the CPRV collection in Maryland in the United States holds at least one copy, and there is just one copy of this valuable QSL card in the AWR collection in Indianapolis. Our card was signed personally by the veteran woman announcer, Eileen Foley.
Just a few weeks back, we presented the story of the radio station on board the Australian motor vessel,”Kanimbla”. On that occasion, we mentioned that the ship was built in Belfast Ireland and that it was the only ship in the world into which a radio station was installed at the time when the ship was constructed.
The “Kanimbla” sailed for Australia on April 26 1936 and it made four radio broadcasts each day throughout the entire voyage. One month later, the inaugural broadcast was made for listeners in Australia with a nationwide relay on the ABC mediumwave network.
From that time onwards, the passenger liner travelled the Australian coastline, frequently sending out entertainment programs over the 50 watt broadcast transmitter, VK9MI. In those days, a VK callsign indicated an experimental station, not necessarily an amateur station as is the case these days. These hour long broadcasts in the evening were presented by the station announcer, Eileen Foley, and they were picked up by local mediumwave stations in the AWA commercial network and relayed to local audiences.
The final broadcast from VK9MI on the “Kanimbla” went on the air right at the beginning of September 1939 and when war was declared, the broadcast station was silenced forever. Station VK9MI never radiated another entertainment program.
We could ask the question: What happened to the “Kanimbla” after that?
One of the really fascinating aspects about research into the history of radio broadcasting is this. When you think that you have completed research into all of the available information on a particular station, then unexpectedly, new information becomes available.
This is the case with the story of the radio broadcasting ship, “Kanimbla”. For much of this additional information, we are indebted to Dr Martin van der Ven in Germany, who maintains a website on the story of radio broadcasting from ships. His website is:-
Just one month after the outbreak of the European Conflict, the “Kanimbla” was taken over by the Royal Navy and the ship was commissioned as HMS “Kanimbla”, that is His Majesty’s Ship “Kanimbla”. The “Kanimbla” then made its way to Hong Kong for re-outfitting as a navy troop transport.
Acting as a navy vessel, the “Kanimbla” carried troops and supplies to allied forces in the Pacific and Asia. During this era, the ship was operated by the Australian navy on behalf of the British navy.
Nearly four years later, HMS “Kanimbla” was re-commissioned in a ceremony in Sydney and it joined the Royal Australian Navy as “HMAS “Kanimbla’, that is, His Majesty’s Australian Ship, “Kanimbla”. The ship served a similar role in the Australian navy for a period of six years after which it was de-commissioned in Sydney in 1949.
At this stage, the “Kanimbla” was re-outfitted again as a passenger liner and then returned to its original owners when it rejoined the passenger traffic. Then in 1961, the ship was sold in Asia and renamed the “Oriental Queen” for passenger traffic in Asian waters. Three years later again it was placed under charter to a Japanese company, and after three more years, they purchased it.
In 1974, just 40 years after it was built, the glorious ship “Kanimbla” was unceremoniously broken up for scrap. That then is the end of the long and interesting saga of the “Kanimbla”, the only ship in the world that had a radio broadcasting station built into it at the time when the ship was constructed.
However, there are two more items of interest. There was a soldier in the American army by the name of A. J. Haley. A few years ago, he read an article about the Australian ship, the “Kanimbla”, in the American radio magazine, “Popular Communications”. He wrote to the editor of the magazine stating that he rode the “Kanimbla” during its era of service as a troop transport vessel in the Pacific. After his demobilization, Haley entered the radio world himself in an amateur role, with the callsign K8UJW.
The other item is this. In recent time we have received several batches of old QSL cards for the AWR Historic Collection. One of these cards is an original QSL card from VK9MI for a reception report dated August 5, 1937 and it was signed by the announcer, Eileen Foley herself.
Another QSL card also verifies a reception report on a transmission from the “Kanimbla”, and it was during its time of service under the Australian navy. The callsign was VLFS and the ship was calling the maritime station VIS in Sydney at the time on 12380 kHz. The date of reception was May 30, 1946.
Year Date Ship Call Location Information
1936 Apr 21 Kanimbla VK9MI Clyde Sea trials begin, 1st tests
Apr 26 Atlantic Delivery voyage to Australia
May 28 Southern Inaugural broadcast
1939 Sep early Australia Final broadcast
Radio Broadcasting from Ships – Kanimbla
Ships Information & References
Kanimbla World’s 1st Ship Broadcast Station, full article; ARW 77.8 1-7-36 4
AWA equipment shipped to Belfast from Australia; ARW 77.8 1-7-36 4+1
Crystal controlled transmitter 1.5 kW 20 – 50 m; ARW 77.8 1-7-36 4
Test broadcasts during sea trials Firth of Clyde 21-4-36; RA373
Kanimbla maiden voyage to Australia 26-4-36; AMP RA 130
ABC relay inaugural broadcast 28-5-36 1,000 miles; ARW 77.8 1-7-36 4
Hundreds or reports received direct SW & via relays; ARW 77.8 1-7-36 4
Broadcasting schedule relay MW Australian stations; WAB 4-9-37 85
9MI 6052 kHz half hour program relay 4CA 4TO 3BO; LI 79.24 7-5-38+1
Recorded & live programming; LI 79.24 30-7-38 32
VK9MI 49.54 (6055) one hour R&H 79.11 5-39 52
9MI new wavelength 49.54 (6055); R&H 79.11 5-39 54
VK9MI strong signal, poor quality, spreads over band; R&H 79.11 5-39 58
9MI 6006 kHz half hour programs irregular broadcast; 79.24 LI 10-6-39 +2
9MI heard quite often on 49 m band; R&H 79.11 8-39 52
VK9MI comes in well at night; R&H 79.11 9-39 55
VK9MI cheery voice of Miss Foley; R&H 79.11 10-39 54
VK9MI heard well until outbreak of war; R&H 79.11 11-39 54
VK9MI full story; AMP RA 129
QSL VK9MI 11710 6010 50 w Foley McIlwraith McEacharn Melbourne
Year Date Location Information
1935 Dec 15 Belfast Launched 15-12-35; Ven website
1936 Apr 21 Clyde Sea trials begin, 1st test broadcasts
Apr 26 Atlantic Delivery voyage to Australia
May 28 Southern Ocean Inaugural broadcast relayed by ABC
1939 Sep early Australian waters Final broadcast of VK9MI
1939 Oct 6 Australia Commissioned as HMS Kanimbla
1943 Jun 1 Australia Commissioned as HMAS Kanimbla
1949 Mar 25 Sydney De-commissioned
1950 Dec 13 Australia Returned to owners afer re-outfitting
1961 Australia Sold & renamed Oriental Queen
1964 Japan Under charter to Toyo Yusen in Tokyo
1967 Japan Purchased by Toyo Yusen
1974 Broken up as scrap