Monday, August 07, 2017

Australian Shortwave Callsign VLN

SS Manuka at Dunedin Wharf
The three letter callsign VLN was first applied to a cargo/passenger liner that served in the Trans-Pacific service between North America and the South Pacific.  The ship was the SS Manuka that was launched in Scotland in 1903.

            The Manuka was a twin sister to the Moeraki that sailed under the wireless callsign VLM.  Both the Manuka and the Moeraki served with the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, they both served as troop carriers during World War 1, they both carried passengers and cargo across the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and they were both ultimately broken up.

            The Moeraki (VLM) was sold to Japan and broken up for scrap in 1933; though the Manuka (VLN) was wrecked at Long Point on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand just after midnight on December 16, 1929.  During the windy and foggy weather, all 203 crew and scantily clad passengers safely transferred to lifeboats in which they remained overnight.  Next day they all disembarked at the nearby beach.

            The name Manuka refers to the Tea Tree in the Maori language of New Zealand, and the wreck site to this day is a popular tourist dive for those who are willing to brave the cold coastal waters.  The callsign VLN was apparently applied to the Manuka as early as 1912 when communication was achieved with the new wireless station MQI on Australia’s Macquarie Island.

            A new callsign appeared on the shortwave dial soon after midyear 1940.  The callsign was VLN, the frequency was 19300 kHz, and the occasion was test transmissions with Japan in preparation for a new telephone service between Australia and Japan.  (Remember, Australia was not at war with Japan until December 8 of the following year 1941.)

            The new shortwave station VLN was first heard in New Zealand in August and September 1940 and it was in reality a new callsign applied to an old communication transmitter located at the AWA Amalgamated Wireless of Australia, center at Pennant Hills near Sydney in New South Wales.  An additional series of test transmissions from VLN began in January of the new year (1941) and the reciprocating station in Japan was the communication station JUR4.

            A total of at least nine different shortwave channels were allocated to transmitter VLN, and each was numbered as a postfix, such as for example VLN2 on  20250 kHz and VLN8 on 10525 kHz.  AWA at its new office building in York Street Sydney issued a few QSLs to verify these transmissions, usually in the form of a short letter.

            Early in the next year 1942, a new AWA made 10 kW shortwave transmitter was installed at Pennant Hills and this unit took over the previously established VLN service, with communication to several different countries including the United States.  Transmitter VLN was often noted with the transfer of radio programming to the United Sates for local broadcast on the mediumwave networks across North America. 

            By this time, Australia Calling was now on the air from AWA Pennant Hills, with the usage of transmitters VLK & VLM and VK2ME, all under the callsign VLQ.  However during the latter part of the year 1942, Australia Calling needed a higher frequency for shortwave transmissions to the United States than was available from the VLQ transmitters, and so the new 10 kW VLN was taken into service temporarily.  (By this time, the  callsign at Pennant Hills for the program relays from Australia Calling had been changed from VLQ to VLI.)

            Beginning on November 5, 1942, VLN3 on 19300 kHz began to relay the programming from Australia Calling-Radio Australia that was beamed to the United States.  At times, VLN8 on 10525 kHz was also noted in the Australia Calling service to North America.

            This series of higher frequency relays beamed to the United States via transmitter VLN ended around midyear 1943.  A few QSL letters from Australia Calling under the VLN callsign were received by international radio monitors living in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

            In the meantime, OTC the Overseas Telecommunication Commission in Australia, established a new shortwave communication station at Doonside, another suburb of Sydney in Australia.  The transfer of usable equipment from AWA Pennant Hills to OTC Doonside began on October 13, 1955, and on December 3, Pennant Hills was officially closed, though it remained in backup mode until the end of the Olympic Games in Melbourne in early December of the following year (1956).

            A major callsign at Doonside was VLN, and many QSL cards were issued verifying this callsign when it was in use for international shortwave communication.  These OTC QSL cards were initially simpler in design, though as time went by, OTC issued full data QSL cards with at least some of the printed elements in color.  OTC Doonside was closed on January 15, 1998.

            The final usage of the callsign VLN was as a line callsign for a program relay from the Melbourne studios of Radio Australia to the high powered shortwave transmitter base located at Cox Peninsula, across the bay from Darwin in the Northern Territory.  A new program service to Darwin was introduced on September 26, 1993 and the delivery via line and satellite was identified under the line callsign N.  When the Darwin transmitter base was closed at the end of the day on June 30 1997 for the second time, program line N no longer existed.

            During the nearly four year period extending from 1993 - 1997, Radio Australia issued many regular QSL Cards and Form Letters clearly identifying the location as Darwin with 250 kW, and listing the callsign on the QSL as VLN.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 441)