The Sullivans: Could WWII German broadcasts be easily received in Australia?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ray Robinson, who writes:

Hi, Thomas. I have recently been re-watching the Australian soap serial ‘The Sullivans’, which ran on Channel 9 from 1976-1983. I used to watch it on ITV in England, and also for awhile on the Tempo cable & satellite channel here in the States in the late 80’s. It is set in Melbourne during the second World War and after, and begins in September 1939. In the episodes covering the early part of 1940, much is made of one of the character’s abilities to listen to Nazi German broadcasts via shortwave, in both English and German (and they play clips of actual audio in the episodes). My question is, how realistic is this?

Were German broadcasts at that time able to be heard with good quality in Australia? Does anyone have a transmission schedule from that era? I know that German broadcasts were well heard throughout Europe and in North America, but I don’t have any details of broadcasts targeting Australia. Might they have been relayed via some Axis transmitter in the Far East? If any of your SWLing Post readers can shed any light on this, I’d be very grateful. Thank you.

Ray Robinson

Great question, Ray. This is certainly an inquiry for radio enthusiasts and WWII buffs in Australia and New Zealand. I’m sure there are accounts out there that could verify how easily and frequently Axis broadcasts could be heard in Australia and NZ. My guess would be that propaganda would have certainly targeted Australia and New Zealand during WWII.

Please comment if you can provide some insight and/or evidence for Ray!

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11 thoughts on “The Sullivans: Could WWII German broadcasts be easily received in Australia?

  1. Neil

    Sort answer is yes, I am pretty sure it was normal to listen to Berlin & London during (and before) the War from Australia.
    My Grandfather in Woolongong, NSW used to switch his old AWA (Australian Amalgamated Wireless) radio to listen to the BBC news every day, when I was a child back in the 1960’s – I remember it well as the AM/SW switch on the front was broken and he would reach behind it to switch it over 🙂
    Also, the AWA dials always had “London”, “Berlin”, “Paris” marked on them, and I don’t think they were normally exported to Europe..
    ( an example is here , for reference from 1936 https://www.radiomuseum.org/r/amalgamate_radiolette_33.html )

    Reply
  2. Mangosman

    I suggest you contact the following;
    https://www.melvillecity.com.au/things-to-do/museums-arts-and-culture/wireless-hill-museum
    It is the site of a high power transmitter made by the German company Telefunken Drive and was installed before the war.
    https://www.onlymelbourne.com.au/the-sullivans shows that it was produced by Crawford Productions, Melbourne, as is https://www.acmi.net.au/about/history-of-acmi/ which is a museum.
    http://www.ammpt.asn.au/ which is in Perth WA but may be of assistance.

    Reply
  3. Samuel Rhine

    There is a really good north-south propagation path between the EU and AUS. I’ve seen many loggings before of UK DXers logging Australian FM and even TV DX as well as vice versa. I can’t remember where but I read about the WW2 german shortwaves before and recall something about 500kW transmitters so with the right conditions it could definitely be easily pulled off right from Occupied Europe. Observationally with my own SWLing I found 300kW to be the minimum for a reliable broadcast signal most of the time that gets through even bad conditions with 500kW being optimum “sounds like a local” type reception where you still end up hearing it even during seemingly “dead” band conditions. Seems Radio Canada had a similar idea back when they were still around because the wikipedia page said something similar about 300 and 500kW except for the 500kW accounting for Urban noise, which would make sense as I have received those stations indoors with the laptop plugged in and TV on before.

    I imagine someone in the outback with a Trans-Oceanic suitcase portable could’ve gotten that off the whip no problem.

    Reply
    1. 13dka

      The most powerful wartime shortwave broadcast transmitters in Germany had 50kW. Zeesen had 9 of those. The only 500 kW wartime transmitter I’m aware of was the “Aspidistra”, a medium wave transmitter dedicated to disrupt and “ride on” German domestic MW broadcasting.

      Reply
  4. bhagwhan

    Not having seen that episode since the 70s, and my memory may be failing, but was not Kitty Sullivan listening to a broadcast from Polish radio covering the fall of Warsaw? Its unlikely that you would also pick up signal so far away with such clarity as heard on the show.

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  5. John Figliozzi

    I know there are records showing that Australian ME stations were heard quite regularly on the east coast of NA in the 1930s. The SW bands were certainly less congested in the ‘40s and ‘30s judging from listings at the time. I certainly don’t think it was impossible for Germany to be heard in Australia, though that doesn’t mean the program producers didn’t take a few liberties as to tine or place.

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  6. 13dka

    Starting out as the “Sender Zeesen” in 1929, the nazis turned the “Funkerberg” (“radio hill”) between Zeesen and Königs Wusterhausen into the most extensive and powerful shortwave broadcasting facility of its time and called it “Deutscher Kurzwellensender”. The station was continuously enlarged, particularly prior to the 1936 Olympics and by 1938 they were producing more than 50 hours of programming in various languages each day, transmitted on 19 frequencies with antennas targeting the entire world, IOW it was basically the role model for the foreign shortwave services we know from the cold war era.

    I can’t quickly find a source with all of their target areas and whether or not AUS/NZ was one of them, but since it’s shortwave there’s no doubt programs directed to Asia or the US could be heard there anyway. Likewise, according to a 1932 advertisement by German radio maker “REICO”, experimental and probably not so well-equipped experimental Australian shortwave broadcasters (pre-ABC era) could be heard in Germany. 🙂

    Reply
    1. 13dka

      Here’s a 1942 issue of the “ABC Weekly”, listing shortwave stations on the second last page. “Berlin” is listed there with multiple callsigns (funny enough, none of them is “DJA” which would be the known callsign of the Zeesen station. It may be possible that some programs were transmitted by the Nauen station but the number of shortwave transmitters increased only significantly a year later, so that’s a bit of a mystery. But the concept of callsigns never really played a role in German broadcasting and if they had one they are usually unknown, at least to Germans).

      https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-1269738099/view?sectionId=nla.obj-1329716026&partId=nla.obj-1269889518#page/n39/mode/1up

      Reply
  7. rtc

    First of all,if they could receive German broadcasts they would sound like this:

    https://www.earthstation1.com/Radio_Propaganda.html

    The sunspot cycle bottomed out in 1941 and peaked in 1947…by 1944 it was

    very much improved.

    Would the time difference,Germany vs. Australia make a difference? It may have and

    consider that the southern hemisphere would be in the opposite season (winter in

    Germany=summer in Australia).

    It’s a shame that most of the WW2 generation has passed away,they could answer

    many of these questions about listening to radio then.

    Reply

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