Spotlight on Shepparton

01 Dec 2010

Originally built to send morale-boosting programs to Allied fighting forces during World War 2, Broadcast Australia’s Shepparton site is now the mainstay for transmitting ‘Radio Australia’ Short Wave broadcasts throughout South-east Asia and the South Pacific.

Established in 1944, Broadcast Australia’s Shepparton facility is located on 240 hectares of land, six kilometres north of the town of Shepparton. The facility broadcasts the ABC’s ‘Radio Australia’ programming to listeners in South-East Asia and the South Pacific islands from six 100kW transmitters, each connected to one of the available 13 antennas.

According to Team Leader, Terry Fahey, the Shepparton site’s transmitters are ‘frequency agile’ from 3.2 to 22 Megahertz. “During the course of a day, we are able to easily change the frequency and aerial combinations to transmitters on the site,” he said. “This enhances our ability to maximise the transmission signal of Radio Australia to our target areas of East Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the South West Pacific.”

The site was initially chosen for its suitability for high-frequency (HF) transmission. “The flat terrain is ideal for optimising propagation of the short-wave signals transmitted from the site,” said Terry. “The proximity to a major town also helped secure the necessary services and labour required in the construction of the facility.  Moreover, it ensured adequate provision of housing, schools and shops for the workers.”

Maintaining a base

Today, the site is maintained 24/7 by seven full-time staff. The facility further provides a district maintenance base for five field service technicians, whose area of responsibility covers northern Victoria and southern New South Wales. “From here, the field service team repair and service all Broadcast Australia’s assets in the Shepparton district,” said Terry. A district supervisor and part time clerical assistant round off the operation.

One of the main challenges of managing this site is the sheer size of the masts and antenna arrays. “Towering 70 metres into the air, the antennas are exposed to extreme weather conditions,” said Terry. “The antennas hang from catenary wires, and can billow like the sails of a tall ship. In the event of antenna damage, gaining access by crane to complete the repair can prove challenging.”

No thought of retiring

The Shepparton site celebrated its 65th birthday in 2009 but its stalwart service continues. “Construction on site started in 1941 and the first live transmissions were made in May 1944,” said Terry. “The wartime ‘Australia Calling’ programs were broadcast to Allied troops stationed throughout the Asia-Pacific theatre. Even US General Douglas MacArthur reportedly commented on the ‘clear and morale-boosting reception’ from the Shepparton site.” Today, the site broadcasts 74% of Radio Australia’s shortwave requirement, with the balance carried by contracted offshore facilities.

Originally an integral element of a chain of transmitter sites used to disseminate authentic information and combat enemy propaganda, Shepparton boasted 35 HF antennas in its heyday. “The original transmitters had ten times the power of any other transmitter operating at the time and were sufficient in power to reach Eastern Europe,” said Terry. “Today, the remaining 13 antennas broadcast more peaceful programs to a number of nations across the region.”