Site off the airwaves

January 21, 2017

The ABC announced last month that it would stop broadcasting shortwave transmissions in to the Asia Pacific.

It helped our troops during World War II and spread impartial news in the Pacific region for decades, but Shepparton’s shortwave broadcasting facility’s future is uncertain.

The ABC announced last month that it would stop broadcasting shortwave transmissions in to the Asia Pacific, putting an end to more than 70 years of continuous shortwave transmissions.

Opening in 1944, the transmission site in north Shepparton was first used to spread morale-boosting broadcasts to troops in the Pacific and, after the war it was the grunt that helped push ABC’s Radio Australia broadcast beyond our shores.

The final Radio Australia shortwave broadcast will go out on Tuesday, January 31, in a decision the ABC said was about moving away from outdated technologies.

‘‘Savings realised through decommissioning this service will be reinvested in a more robust FM transmitter network and an expanded content offering for the region that will include English and in-language audio content,’’ an ABC spokesperson said.International listeners will still be able to listen to Radio Australia through a web stream.

Just what the shutdown means for the broadcast towers beyond January 31 was still uncertain.

When asked by The News, the ABC said the towers were in the ownership of Broadcast Australia, which was part of BAI Communications.

A spokesperson for BAI Communications said the future of the site was not decided yet.

‘‘At this stage Broadcast Australia has made no plans in respect to retaining the infrastructure in place, and the decision to retain or decommission the redundant sites and equipment will be taken by Broadcast Australia in due course,’’ the spokesperson said.

If the site was decommissioned it would be a sad day for Australia, according to former transmitter operator Rodney Champness.

He worked at the facility for seven years and believed it was still a vital piece of national infrastructure that could not be replicated by web streaming.

‘‘In those countries we are aiming at they can get the internet, but it is expensive and for many people their wages are not high enough to afford it,’’ Mr Champness said.

‘‘They don’t have a lot of money and shortwave radio is cheap.’’

Shepparton was chosen in the 1940s for a few reasons, including the relatively flat terrain which was beneficial for broadcasts, and its location, away from inland cities and domestic flight routes.

‘‘It’s away from the coast so Japanese or German aircrafts could not easily get to it, and the building was blast proof for the bombs from that era,’’ he said.

If the site was decommissioned, it would be a sad day for Australia and especially for Shepparton, he said.

‘‘I just think it’s an icon, and people don’t really even realise it’s there,’’ Mr Champness said.

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