The Shadow Minister for Financial Services, Clare O’Neil, has told ABC Radio Darwin that a Shorten Government will bring short-wave radio back to the Northern Territory, after it was disbanded by the ABC in 2017, saying restoring the service “is actually crucially important for safety in the Territory.
“Malarndirri (McCarthy) spoke earlier today about a gentleman who was out fishing, and he didn’t know about the cyclone because he didn’t have access to short wave radio. We know there are long haul trucks travelling around the Territory, and short-wave radio is crucial for them to understand what’s going on around them. So that’s why a Shorten Labor Government will bring this back.”
Asked if that meant that Labor would fund the million dollars or so to meet the expense, the Shadow Minister said “That’s correct” though she was unable to commit to any further expansion of the short-wave service outside of the NT.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Nigel Holmes––formerly of Radio Australia––for the following op ed.
The Shepparton transmitter site of ABC/Radio Australia
Developments in the Australian domestic HF broadcasting scene
by Nigel Holmes
Radio broadcast on HF (high frequency or shortwave) has a solid role to play in the pantheon of media in the Australian and pan-Pacific context. It might be off the radar for the urban masses, but HF radio is the proven, economical alternative to satellite and cable for communication over continental or oceanic distances. Our commercial airlines use HF radio every day. So do our mining companies and emergency services. People holidaying in our remote areas buy or rent HF transceivers for their cars. Australia has the largest number of civilian users of HF radio in the world.
For thirty years a simple system of three HF transmitters quietly provided Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) radio to remote populations across inland Australia, the Northern Territory (NT). Centered on Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine each transmitter reached out nominally 450 km, covering an area of nearly 2 million square kilometres. In practice the area serviced was larger, extending into Queensland and Western Australia. Such is the utility of this versatile medium. The audience was small, only a couple of hundred thousand, living or moving through the most remote places in Australia, but this was their lifeline.
During the cyclone season, storm alerts and flood warnings would reach people in the inland beyond the call of AM and FM networks. Yes, such people do exist in Australia and elsewhere in the Pacific.
Like many marginalised communities the HF radio listeners of the outback struggled to make urban elites understand their very real world. So in 2016 when the ABC announced the closure of the domestic HF transmitters in order to fund its DAB+ radio rollout in Canberra and Hobart, the backlash from the remote communities was shrugged off and the closures proceeded in 2017. ABC pointed at its satellite as an alternative, but had no answer when asked how to equip a jillaroo’s horse, a dusty 4WD or an offshore tinnie with a fragile satellite dish, an expensive receiver and the power point to run it all.
People who are used to an effective service tend to take its loss badly. So it has been in the NT. Politicians were pursued by the inland listeners wanting a better deal. The matter has culminated with the main opposition Australian Labor Party pledging to restore the HF distribution of ABC within Australia if it wins the forthcoming the federal election.
Let’s hope political expediency at the federal government level and within ABC doesn’t foul this up. We don’t want a half-baked resurrection as a sop to fend off critics of the ABC or to let politicians grandstand.
The three domestic HF sites in the NT cost a lot more than AUD$1.9 million p.a. to run. That was a figure bandied about by ABC after criticism of its DAB+ expansion costs. But for a sum in the order of half that, plus re-establishment costs, a service can be implemented which would have greater coverage, better reliability and lower outgoings. What’s not to like? The key is the former Radio Australia HF station at Shepparton, Victoria.
The cost of electricity at the NT sites was horrendous. Apart from feeding three thirsty 50 kW tx, huge air conditioning plant was required at each site to pull out waste heat and combat 50°C summer temperatures. Maintenance costs were savage. On-air availability was lousy (worst in the ABC network) because of environmental challenges and long maintenance travel times.
So here’s a plan: re-locate a near-new Continental 418G HF 100 kW transmitter from Tennant Creek to Shepparton. Electricity is much cheaper and more reliable at Shepparton. It’s a cooler site and has permanent, trained staff. The consolidation of spares and expertise with the other Continental transmitters at Shepparton makes engineering and economic sense. Re-locate the two small 6-12 MHz HR2/2/0.4 and HR2/2/0.6 aerials from the former RA station at Brandon. Erect them both as AHR2/2/0.4, align one on a boresight of 000°T and the other one on a boresight of 320°T. Feed both aerials from the transmitter via a splitter, run the transmitter at 80 kW so each array receives 40 kW. Run a 5.9 MHz channel at night and a 9 or 11 MHz channel during daylight. Bingo. You now have a two-frequency network covering the sector between 020° & 300° at a range of 1500 km -> 3000+ km. What a great conduit for cyclone/flood alerts, quality news and entertainment and if the ABC can manage that then it might just get back to meeting its charter obligations to all Australians.
Hi there, back in 1990 I was given a Panasonic RF-B40 for my birthday (I think it was my birthday…1990 was a long time ago!). I found that radio to be very sensitive on shortwave, more so perhaps than my Sangean ATS-803A, but ultimately it didn’t really add much value to any serious DXing because it would only tune on shortwave in 5 kHz steps. This rather course tuning arrangement was very limiting in terms of tuning out adjacent noise and copying tropical band – and other signals that weren’t quite on-frequency etc. Frustrated, I lent my RF-B40 to my brother a few years ago and serves me right; following a house move, he managed to lose it! Quite a shame really because almost three decades later, I would have been very interested to put the RF-B40 through it’s paces on a DXpedition or two. You really don’t see them in action very often at all these days.
Above: the Panasonic RF-B40 (not mine – unfortunately) and the RF-B60, mid-DXpedition!
At that time, which was around the beginning of the 1990s, I read a review somewhere and it became clear that the better receiver was quite obviously the RF-B65. Upon it’s introduction into the market, the RF-B65 was immediately recognised as an excellent receiver, however, in the intervening years it’s reputation has continued to grow to the point today where it enjoys legendary status amongst DXers and bit of a cult following. There’s a lot of information on the RF-B65 to be found on the internet, so I won’t go into huge detail, but the obvious question is: what makes thsi receiver so special? Well, it’s a quite compact PPL double conversion receiver, covering 153 kHz to 29,999 kHz AM and 87.5 to 108 MHz, FM. It has a keypad for direct frequency input, although you have to press either the ‘FREQ’ or ‘METER’ buttons prior to punching in the numbers to define whether you wish to access a particular frequency, or band. I actually find that slightly annoying, but you easily learn to live with such trivial matters when using a radio of this quality and performance.
Furthermore, there’s an electronic signal strength meter, a DX/local attenuation switch, external antenna jack, SSB reception mode, 1 kHz tuning steps on shortwave (unlike it’s little brother the RF-B40) and fine tuning. The single bandwidth filter is 6 kHz wide and thus limits selectivity a little, although the SSB option and fine tune helps offset that somewhat. It would have been nice to have a couple more filtering options, particularly narrower for serious DXing in crowded bands, to combat adjacent channel QRM. Build quality is generally excellent as you would have expected from a high-end Panasonic portable and with a very compact form-factor – roughly the size of a paperback book and weighing in at just 1.4 Ibs, it is eminently more portable than a Sony ICF-SW77 or the iconic ICF-2001D/2010.
Ultimately, the RF-B65 continues to enjoy an excellent reputation today, nearly 30 years after it was introduced because it is a wonderfully sensitive receiver and arguably the best-ever performing shortwave portable in the paperback book size category – often touted as ‘travel portables’. I managed to acquire an example in as-new condition from eBay, although mind you, I paid through the nose for it lol – that cult following ensures prices remain very robust! I have tested my example against the equally legendary Sony ICF-2001D, still considered by many to be the benchmark for shortwave portables, and in my experience the Panasonic is right up there with it. There’s virtually no difference whatsoever in sensitivity. Where the Panasonic comes a little unstuck is the lack of bandwidth filtering and SYNC, leading to lower selectivity. However, clever use of SSB and fine tuning does provide quite good compensation for these shortcomings. Overall though, given it’s size, sensitivity, build quality and audio, as a complete package, in my opinion, the RF-B65 is equal to the ICF-2001D, and this is why today, it remains so highly sought after.
Below are embedded reception videos and text links to the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel, with various DX catches on the RF-B65. Some of these are considered quite rare in Europe, for example EXPPM Radio Educación’s 1 kW signal from Mexico City, the now defunct ABC Northern Territories on 120 metres and Radio Bandeirantes from Sao Paolo, Brazil, amongst others. Please note; right at the bottom of this post is a link to some very recent comparisons with the brilliant Eton Satellit – one of the very best portables currently on the market today. The vintage Panasonic holds its own, despite 30 years of supposed technical innovation in electronics. Thanks for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all great DX.
Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.
This morning, I woke up, tuned to 9,580 kHz and all I heard was static.
Other than when the Shepparton transmitting station has been silenced for maintenance in the past, 9,580 kHz is one of the most reliable frequencies I’ve ever know on shortwave. Radio Australia has met me there every morning I’ve listened since I was eight years old.
I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend and certainly a staple source of news on shortwave radio. I know I’m not alone–a number of readers have shared similar sentiments this morning.
Archiving Radio Australia’s final days on the air
Listening to Radio Australia on 12,065 kHz with the Titan SDR Pro.
Since the beginning of the year, a few of us have been making a concerted effort to thoroughly archive Radio Australia’s final days on the air. Mark Fahey, London Shortwave, Richard Langley, Rob Wagner and I (to name a few) have been making both audio and/or spectrum recordings.
At 0100 UTC on January 31, 2017, we heard the “Waltzing Matilda” interval signal for one last time. As I understand it, the crew at the Shepparton site left the transmitter on a few extra seconds extra so their famous interval signal would be, in essence, the final sign-off.
Due to propagation and the time of day when the shut down happened, I was unable to make a recording, so I’m pleased others could.
Mark compares shortwave and satellite feeds
Mark Fahey’s Wellbrook Mag Loop antenna.
I’m grateful to friend and contributor, Mark Fahey, who lives near Sydney, Australia, and was also able to record the final moments of Radio Australia as well. Mark recorded the shortwave service and RA satellite feed simultaneously.
Mark shares the following recordings and notes:
This is RA’s final few minutes on shortwave – it was recorded on 17840kHz.
The file picks up the regular program ending, then into a Promo for RA “Pacific Beat” (a Pacific current affairs program), then the classic RA Interval Signal then the transmitter clicks off and the void is heard.
The file starts at exactly the same time as the first file, but in this example we are monitoring the Network Feed from Intelsat 18 at 180.0 degrees east (above the equator right on the international date line). This satellite feed is the way Radio Australia gets to the network of FM Transmitters they have scatted around the Pacific Region (which is why they feel they don’t need shortwave anymore for – most populated areas of Radio Australia’s target area now is covered by a network of Radio Australia FM transmitters).
Some differences to the first file – Radio Australia is produced in FM quality stereo, though of course DXers only ever heard it in shortwave quality mono. So this network feed is in stereo and has a wider dynamic range that what DXer’s are familiar with from Radio Australia. At the end of the Pacific Beat Promo, Radio Australia goes straight into News, the closing of the shortwave service was not an event that would have been noticed for the typical listeners of RA who now listen via FM in Pacific capitals and major towns.
Thank you Mark for your comparison–I’ve never heard RA so clearly. Only you would’ve thought to simultaneously record the satellite feed! It gives the moment that much more context.
A number of SWLing Post contributors have been sharing recordings this morning. I will plan to collect these and put them on the Shortwave Archive in the near future.
Listening to Radio Australia on 12,065 kHz with the TitanSDR Pro.
As I write this post, I’m listening to Radio Australia on 9,580 and 12,065 kHz. Other than the sports reports and weather, world news is chock-full of stories–many of which are quite sad.
This will likely be the last morning I listen to Radio Australia on shortwave.
SWLing Post contributor, Phill Brennan–who has done a fine job keeping us up-to-date with RA developments–shares the following message:
On the local ABC news tonight it was mentioned that the NT transmitters were going to be shut down at midday local time or 0230 UTC on 31 January. I cannot confirm this, but it may be useful to alert listeners who wish to hear the end of the broadcast. I have no information on RA’s shutdown but it may be the same.
Apparently there will be a gathering at the Katherine transmitter by local listeners tomorrow to mark the end of the broadcasts.
Political pressure continues. A South Australian Senator (Xenophon) is going to introduce a private members bill into the Australian Parliament which will mandate that the ABC must provide a SW service to the NT. I don’t think I would back this in succeeding, but it’s worth a try.
The whole exercise has been a public relations disaster for the ABC as it has been a major news story nationally for weeks now. Not enough damage to change the ABC management’s mind on the matter though.
Thank you for the update, Phil, and for following this story as it developed.
Again, if I understand correctly, for those of us in North America, today is the final day we’ll hear Radio Australia on shortwave (9,580, 12,065 and 12,085 kHz).
I feel I should mention that I did receive a tip that the shut for some of the Radio Australia shortwave services might be as early as 11:00AM Tuesday local time Shepparton (00:00 UTC).
[…]In a statement yesterday rebutting opposition claims that the ABC’s decision was somehow linked to government funding cuts, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the ABC’s decision, announced unexpectedly in December, had since been “confirmed”.
“While the ABC has confirmed its decision I think the public broadcaster has learnt some valuable lessons about community consultation and engagement in regional and remote areas,” Mr Fifield said. “This is entirely a call by the ABC who have the legislated operational independence to make these decisions.”
Mr Shorten told The Australian the ABC’s rural listeners had been “shabbily” treated.
“The people of the Northern Territory have been treated shabbily throughout this process. The Prime Minister needs to start listening to locals and speaking up for them,” he said.
[…]In a statement issued yesterday, the ABC said it was “deeply committed to rural and regional Australia and the one-third of Australians who live outside the capital cities”.
[…]It promised to expand an existing “information awareness program” with the addition of easier access to information packs about alternative services, one-on-one telephone support and “how-to” videos to guide listeners to catch up on programs using podcasts.
“The National Broadband Network satellite services ‘Sky Muster’ will also assist those in remote Australia, by providing access to all ABC online and digital content,” the statement said.
“The ABC will also supply (donate) a VAST satellite system unit to all Royal Flying Doctor Service bases and 4WD Radio club bases in the affected region, allowing them to rebroadcast emergency or warning messages as required.”
Those things are unlikely to placate pastoralists, who usually live and work far from 4WD clubs and cannot realistically mount large VAST (viewer access satellite television) systems on their vehicles. Cattle station owners and staff continue to complain bitterly about the poor quality of NBN satellite services, where one connection typically offering less than 100GB of downloads per month may be shared among a dozen or more people for both personal and business purposes. In practice, they say, this makes all ABC digital content inaccessible in the bush.[…]