Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Peter Marks, who was recently invited to attend an ABC celebration. Peter wrote up a summary of the event on his blog:
80 years of international broadcasting by the ABC was celebrated this week at the headquarters in Ultimo, Sydney.
David Hua, ABC Head, International Strategy introduced the event.
Geraldine Doogue was the MC for the evening. She described the International division as “Taking Australian culture beyond its shores”. Doogue described ABC International as the very best of the ABC and said that the people who work in it have a sense of pride in Australia and work out how to present it to the world.
Ita Buttrose, ABC chair, said “The birth of Australia’s international broadcasting service came at a time of global upheaval, uncertainty and disruption. Australia seemed far removed from the epicentre of conflict in Europe, but the technology of cable and wireless brought the war in to living rooms across the country.”
As Ms Buttrose noted in her recent speech at the Lowy Institute, radio technology also gave Australia the opportunity to speak directly, for the first time, to its near neighbours, countering the propaganda and fake news of the day.
Australia gropes and stutters towards a renewed embrace of international broadcasting—the vital need to ‘speak for ourselves’ in the Asia–Pacific.
The latest lurch towards fresh understanding is the silent release of the review of Australia’s media reach in the Asia–Pacific. Note the irony that a report on broadcasting is soundless on arrival.
Behold a classic orphan inquiry, not wanted by either the government or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, nor particularly desired by the public service. The orphan was created as part of the price to win a Senate vote, and is dumped on the public doorstep without a word of welcome.
The review was completed last December but only released (published on the Department of Communications website) on 17 October. No announcement. No government decisions.
The inquiry matters because it nods towards significant policy failure and the absent-minded trashing of Oz international broadcasting.[…]
An interesting conclusion in the report on page 128 is that the authors estimate that shortwave broadcasts to the Asia and Pacific by Australia have a net economic benefit since 2007-08 of $40.3 million.
Presumably this means it would make economic sense for Australia to get back in to Shortwave broadcasting like our clever Chinese neighbours.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Nigel Holmes, who writes:
Here are a couple of interesting url following the joint Australian DFAT & DCA Review of Broadcasting Services in the Asia Pacific. [One] gives a good overview and the [other] is a concise assessment of HF and Radio Australia in the role of broadcasting to remote areas. Have a look. Former RA Head Jean-Gabriel Manguy made a submission, I did not this time. The submissions are in the public domain.
International broadcasting: the ABC vs the wisdom of the crowd
The findings of two related government reviews – on international broadcasting, and soft power – should offer an incoming Australian government the potential of a substantial policy reset following the general election in May. Specifically, they may help clarify the purpose and place of state-funded international broadcasting/digital media in Australia’s foreign relations, following a decades-long cycle of investment and dis-investment.
Shortly before Christmas, the Department of Communications published most of the 433 submissions (92 private individuals, 31 organisations or groups, and 310 signatories to a pro-forma submission) made to the first of those reviews, Australian Broadcasting Services in the Asia Pacific, excluding those whose authors wished them to remain confidential. Finalisation of the broadcasting report precedes the related Soft Power Review, being undertaken by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has proposed a completion date of around March.
So it is timely to take note of the wisdom of the crowd, as expressed through the more discursive submissions to the broadcasting review, and to compare them with the institutional perspective of the ABC as the responsible agency for international broadcasting.[…]
It’s New Year’s Eve and as I do each year, I’ve been spending time on the radio tuning around the bands–crossing borders and time/date zones at will. Most broadcasters spend this day going over events of the year, playing music and looking back. Some even have an in-house on-air party of sorts when they slip into the new year. It’s always fun.
I remember very fondly the full day I spent at the radio as we entered the year 2000. I wrote a post about this and published a recording several years ago. I decided it was time to pull that post from the archives and put it on the front page once again. I hope you enjoy it.
Since this post was first published, Radio Australia has gone off the air of course, so I find recordings like this even more meaningful.
Here’s wishing you and yours an amazing New Year!
Radio Australia rings in the millennium
Yesterday–New Year’s Eve, 2014–I spent some time listening to a few broadcasters as the new year passed through their time zones. While I missed hearing Radio New Zealand International (the first to welcome the New Year on the air), I did manage to catch Radio Australia, and the New Year was celebrated with no fanfare; one program merely ran into the next, and there was a brief mention of 2014’s arrival in the headline news.
Oh, but it wasn’t that way when we moved into the year 2000…
Rewind 14 years
Back in December of 1999, before setting off to visit family for the New Year, I had a sudden notion: I decided it would be fun–and a bit novel–to record radio broadcasters as each moved into the new millennium. As we were packing the car to travel, I changed my mind about using my Grundig Yacht Boy 400 to accomplish this fairly ambitious, round-the-world listening/recording endeavor; instead, I grabbed my ham radio transceiver, an Icom IC-735, and packed it, along with a hefty 12-volt power supply. While my IC-735 lacked AM filters (at the time) it had much better sensitivity than the YB400, especially when hooked up to a decent antenna. I also had the foresight to take along a few odds and ends, including a mechanical antenna tuner and a spool of long wire.
The Icom IC-735
To record the broadcast, I used my trusty Aiwa AM F70 MiniDisk recorder–remember those? Upon arrival at our extended family’s home, they kindly permitted me to erect a long wire antenna in a sloping configuration in their yard. It did a fine job netting the airwaves. The MiniDisk recorder recorded brilliantly, allowing me to monitor levels and even edit afterward.
As a result, I spent New Year’s Eve 2000 recording station after station as the earth turned. It was great fun, and meanwhile had very little impact on our family celebrations as I simply left the recorder running for long periods of time.
My trusty Aiwa AM F70 MiniDisk recorder.
While I have yet to dissect the many hours of recordings, if memory serves, I think I managed to record Radio New Zealand International, Voice of Russia, Radio France International, NHK, Voice of America, and Radio Canada International as each rang in 2000. The IC-735 performed quite well, save a lack of bandwidth filters, as I only really had two–very wide, and very narrow.
So, for your New Year’s Day listening pleasure: I hope you’ll enjoy, as much as I did, listening to Radio Australia ring in the new millennium yet again. In the news items, you’ll hear that Russian President Boris Yeltson has handed the reigns over to Vladimir Putin, and remarks about the (lack of) problems resulting from the infamous Y2K threat.
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.
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