In an apparent nod to radio amateurs who may have tuned in, Radio Australia’s VL8A transmitter in Alice Springs signed off on January 31 in CW. The station sent “73 de VL8A QRT,” before pulling the big switch. Radio Australia announced last fall that it planned to cease its shortwave transmissions this year. The broadcaster shut down its Katherine, Tennant Creek and Roe Creek (Alice Springs) transmitters at the end of January, but it said it would continue to broadcast on FM and AM bands, via satellite, and online streaming and mobile applications.
The move has not been popular with those who live and work in the vast area the shortwave broadcasts reached, with some saying it was the only reliable broadcast outlet, and that its demise could deprive Northern Australian listeners of emergency and critical weather information. Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association President Tom Stockwell, who lives on Sunday Creek Station with no access to AM or FM radio or mobile phone service, isn’t buying the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s explanation. He said the decision to focus on digital transmission ignored people in the bush. “It affects a big area of Australia, and it affects those people that are remote from other forms of communication that rely on radio network,” he said.
Mark Crocombe of the indigenous Thamarrurr Rangers in the remote community of Wadeye said his group members spend days and sometimes weeks at a time away in the bush and out on sea patrols and had relied on the ABC’s shortwave radio for weather reports and emergency information, including cyclone warnings. “Sure, it is expensive to keep the shortwave radio service going, but during cyclones, for the bush camps and people on boats, that is their only way of getting the weather reports,” he said. “It could be life threatening, if you are out and you don’t know a cyclone is coming.”
Radio Australia has said the move was in line with its commitment to dispense with outdated technology and to expand its digital content offerings and FM services. The ABC said it would put the money saved from ending shortwave broadcasting into other program distribution technology.