American Radio Stations in Australia – VLC Shepparton
by Adrian Petersen
As was stated on a previous occasion, almost one dozen American radio stations have been established in Australia over the past half century. The first of this slew of interesting and sometimes unusual stations was installed in a country area in Victoria mid-century. It was a shortwave unit and it carried specific programming on relay from the United States beamed to the Philippines. This is what happened.
Back in the year 1937, the Australian government announced that they planned on establishing a major shortwave station in Australia, similar to the recently established BBC facility located near Daventry in England. This new Daventry station was inaugurated in 1932 with two shortwave transmitters at 10 kW each. However, by the time Australia was looking at a similar possibility, the Daventry station was on the air with three shortwave transmitters, each rated at around 50 kW.
During the year 1939, with major political changes looming on the horizon in continental Europe, the projected new shortwave station in Australia was now looked upon as a high priority project for possible use as a replacement for Daventry if necessary. Serious site searches were conducted throughout Eastern Australia at several different locations, and possible locations under consideration included Sydenham near Melbourne in Victoria (with its two new ABC mediumwave stations 3LO & 3AR); Liverpool near Sydney in New South Wales (with its two new ABC mediumwave stations 2FC & 2BL); and Lyndhurst near Melbourne in Victoria (with its single shortwave transmitter VLR).
Interestingly at this time, the Australian government was already in the process of constructing a large new shortwave station at Belconnen near Canberra, and it was rumored that this was Australia’s new shortwave broadcasting station. However, this was not the case, it was instead a shortwave communication station for the use of the Australian navy. Ultimately, the final choice for Australia’s new shortwave voice was a totally new location, out in a country area near Shepparton in central Victoria. This was a large property of 567 acres, a dozen miles from Shepparton and 120 miles from Melbourne.
Site preparation for this large new international broadcasting station, which included the construction of a large bombproof transmitter hall and the erection of a bevy of curtain and rhombic antennas, began in 1942. One year later, the Transmitter Hall was completed and ready for use; but, where were the new shortwave transmitters? The original concept envisaged the installation of three transmitters in this new facility, two at 100 kW and one at 50 kW. These units would be identified with the Australian callsigns, VLA, VLC & VLM.
At this stage and as a joint project, STC and AWA in suburban Sydney were designing and building two transmitters at 100 kW and these were subsequently installed in Shepparton three years later and given the callsigns VLA & VLB. A worldwide search was to no avail, and even though the facility was ready for use, minus its transmitters, by February 1943, yet it remained empty for another year. Finally, a 50 kW transmitter became available in the United States. This was an RCA unit, originally intended for use at a now unknown location somewhere else, and it was made available for installation in Australia under the Lend-Lease Agreement. This agreement stipulated that the transmitter should relay specific programming from the United States to the Philippines. In fact, when this new station first went on the air, identification announcements stated that it was operating from “General MacArthur’s Headquarters” in Australia. This station was also known for a short while as ABSIA, the American Broadcasting Station in Australia, somewhat reminiscent of a similar station in England, which identified as ABSIE, the American Broadcasting Station in Europe.
Installation at Shepparton for the new 50 kW RCA transmitter began in February 1944 and it was ready for part time usage by the end of April. On May 1, 1944, this unit came into a limited daily usage on 9680 kHz under the callsign VLC2 with the relay of the American program, “Philippine Hour”. This program, one hour in duration, was on the air daily at 7 pm, EAST, Eastern Australian Standard Time. Transmitter VLC was taken into full time regular usage nearly four months later on August 25, with the multi-language programming of “Australia Calling”, as well as with the VOA-OWI program, “The Philippine Hour”.
Interestingly, the location of this new shortwave station was not publicly revealed for nearly half a year. Initially, the identification announcements stated simply that it was on the air from General MacArthur’s Headquarters in Australia. It was not until the following October that radio publications clearly stated that transmitter VLC was located at Shepparton in Victoria.
Actually, it was back in mid 1942 that regular programming from the United States began to appear on radio stations in Australia. It is safe to say that every radio station in Australia, ABC & commercial, mediumwave & shortwave, carried American programming on many occasions during the critical years of the Pacific Conflict. The first of these American programs was titled “American News” and it was a daily ten minute bulletin of news that was on the air from 2FC in Sydney and all of the nationwide stations in the ABC National Network.
Early in the following year, an additional American program under the title, “America Speaks with Pearl Buck” was broadcast over the same ABC networks. This new Pearl Buck program was also ten minutes in duration. Shortly afterwards, the Sunday edition of “American News” was expanded to half an hour in duration with the addition of American music and sports results. Each of these American radio programs was also relayed on shortwave by the ABC Home Service shortwave transmitters that were scheduled to be on the air at the time. These shortwave units were 2 kW VLR in Lyndhurst, 10 kW VLG also in Lyndhurst, 10 kW VLQ at Bald Hills in Queensland, and 2 kW VLW at Wanneroo in Western Australia.
Beginning in December 1942, “Australia Calling” as Radio Australia was known at the time, beamed a program on shortwave to the United States under the title, “The American Program”. This daily broadcast was half an hour in duration and it was transmitted on VLQ Pennant Hills near Sydney and VLG Lyndhurst near Melbourne in Victoria. This new program presented Australian and South Pacific news and information that would be of interest to Americans and it was beamed to California where it was picked up live off air for relay by the nationwide mediumwave networks in the United States.
As mentioned previously, the relay broadcast of the “Philippine Hour” began on May 1, 1944. It was always an evening broadcast, at both the transmitter location as well as in the Philippine target area. However, at the orders of General MacArthur, additional sessions were beamed to the Philippines from transmitter VLC for two days in early June. These broadcasts, in which updated news about D-Day in Europe was presented, went out over VLC4 on 15315 kHz and VLC 2 on 9680 kHz on June 7 & 8, in the morning, midday, afternoon and evening sessions.
Around about this time, General MacArthur also directed that there should also be a morning broadcast beamed to the Philippines from Australia. This new fifteen minute news program was first noted by international radio monitors in Australia in September and it was carried on VLC4 15315 kHz at 10 am.
The OWI-VOA broadcasts to the Philippines over VLC lasted for just one year. In May of the following year, 1945, both American programs were dropped by VLC. By this time, the “Philippine Hour” was already on the air from the 10 kW transmitter, WVLC, aboard the renovated radio ship, the “Apache”. At this stage, the “Apache” was located in waters adjacent to the Philippine Islands and the shortwave transmitter gave nice coverage to the entire archipelago.
So, what happened then to transmitter VLC after its usage as a relay station on behalf of OWI-VOA was concluded? In those days, all of the ABC transmitter facilities, including shortwave “Australia Calling”, were maintained by the PMG Department and the programming was prepared by the ABC and landlined to each specific transmitter.
Soon after VLC became airborne, the ABC in Melbourne began to phase in their “Australia Calling” programming and at the end of the first year of on air usage when the American programming beamed to the Philippines was concluded, this shortwave unit carried a full schedule on behalf of “Australia Calling”.
During a renovation program at Shepparton some thirteen years after its inauguration, the American transmitter VLC was bifurcated into two units, both at 50 kW. Twelve years later again, these two units were rebuilt for an additional spate of on air service. Ultimately, at the age of almost forty, these two RCA 50 kW transmitters were finally removed and discarded in 1983. They were replaced by two Harris units at 100 kW each.
Thus it was that the 50 kW American RCA transmitter VLC served as a relay station in Australia for American VOA-OWI programming for a period of just one year, beginning in mid 1944. In 1957 it gave birth to a twin unit rated at 50 kW, in 1969 both units were rebuilt, and in 1983 they were finally discarded at the end of forty years of on air service.
Throughout all of these years a multitude of QSL cards and letters were issued by the ABC, Radio Australia and the Australian Department of Information to verify the reception of radio station VLC. However, there is just one known QSL that was +issued by the American Office of War Information to verify the reception of their “Philippine Hour” on relay over VLC, their own shortwave transmitter in Australia.
For a period of a little over three years, running from early 1942 until mid 1945, the California based OWI, Office of War Information, established a branch office in the AWA building in York Street, Sydney. This Australian office employed Mr. L. J. Keast, who was already the DX editor for the Sydney based “Australian Radio World”, as a part time international radio monitor. It is suggested, that this only known QSL for the American programming over VLC was issued through his auspices. This QSL is thought to be a letter and it was issued to Owen Rogers of Onehunga in New Zealand for his reception report on VLC2 on 9680 kHz soon after this unique radio transmitter was inaugurated back in the year 1944.
Adrian Petersen is a noted radio historian and broadcaster for many years with Indianapolis based Adventist World Radio, a global shortwave, AM, FM and satellite radio network. Originally from South Australia, Adrian has worked in radio across Asia and the Pacific and is well known worldwide for his long running Wavescan radio series. He has published an extensive number of radio heritage articles using his large database of historical information, and personally maintains the AWR heritage collection, one of the world’s largest privately held memorabilia collections.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of the Radio Heritage Foundation. Send us your column comments and feedback.
The MacArthur Museum opened in Brisbane in early 2007. Housed in the AMP Building used as Pacific HQ by General MacArthur, the museum includes a center for research and recordings of General MacArthur. Visit the MacArthur Museum for more information.