Australia - International - AWA.
Coastal Radio Stations.

This page summarises:

  1. The establishment of the Coastal Radio stations;
  2. the start of the construction program;
  3. the stations in the Coastal Radio Service;
  4. the stations in the Island Radio Service;
  5. Summary of the use and activities.

1. The establishment of the Coastal Radio stations.

Almost immediately after the first tender had been let in 1910, the Government gave Amalgamated Wireless Ltd a licence to operate a wireless station and conduct telegraphy tests with ships at sea. The Company's shore station - and the first wireless station to be opened in Australia for commercial traffic with ships at sea - was established on the top floor of the Australia Hotel in Sydney. Its call sign was "AAA". It had a German Telefunken set and remarkable distances were obtained. The mast was attached to the Hotel's chimney.

Under the leadership of one of its Directors, Mr. Edward Fisk, the Company began to redefine the nature of the Coastal Radio stations. Fisk considered it necessary to have radio telegraphy units on merchant ships which could communicate with a shore base.

A possible scope of and the details for a Coastal Radio Service in Australia were formally proposed in a report on Australian Naval Defence dated 1 March 1911 complied by British Admiral Sir Reginald G. Henderson. He recommended the installation of:

The recommendations of the Henderson Report together with Fisk's experimentation were, in part, the subject of subsequent legislation through:


2. The Government commences its construction program.

Following the trials by the privately owned company, the Government, through the Postmaster-General's Department, began to establish the first coastal radio stations. These were to be the sole responsibility of the Government. The high powered (25 kW) transmitters had a range of 520 km. The first two stations of this permanent network of stations were located at:

Various construction delays actually enabled Melbourne and Hobart stations to be completed before Sydney (see table below). The change in location for the Sydney station was explained by the Postmaster-General, in reply to Mr. Bruce Smith (N.S.W.), on 11 November 1910 as follows: "... the contractors for the erection of a wireless telegraphic station at Sydney were to be paid £2,000 extra for the removal from the site originally selected (i.e. the Australia Hotel) owing to the extra labour involved. The Australasian Wireless Telegraphy Company were the contractors but he did not know whether the Chief Director was connected with the Bulletin newspaper but it was understood that other of the directors were".

In the figures and Estimates of the Federal Budget released in October 1911, was a small item: "Wireless telegraph station: Pennant Hill £5,800; Wireless telegraph station: Fremantle £11,000". There was no indication of how these estimates followed from the previous estimates.

In the 1912 Budget, the Government allocated £30,000 for "Wireless Telegraph Stations" in addition to an amount of £9,000 for "Wireless Telegraph Station, Fremantle".

At about the same time, an experimental inland wireless telegraph link was being planned and developed between Casterton and Strathdownie in Victoria.

3. The Stations in the Coastal Radio Service.

 A summary of the stations opened to 1916, ordered by opening date, is as follows:

8 February 1912
30 April 1912
19 August 1912
2 September 1912
30 September 1912
1 October 1912
Thursday Island
26 February 1913
Port Moresby
26 February 1913
Mount Gambier
1 March 1913
12 May 1913
24 May 1913
12 June 1913
21 July 1913
7 August 1913
18 August 1913
25 September 1913
Flinders Island
8 October 1913
26 January 1914
18 May 1914
King Island
January 1916

The stations were collectively referred to as the Coastal Radio Service. Each had its own call sign:

The distress signal in those days was "CQD". "C.Q." was, as now, the general call for all ships. After the Titanic disaster in 1911, it was realised that a distress call of a more serious nature was necessary and the letter "D" was added to signify danger. Shortly afterwards the call was changed to "SOS," which was chosen for its morse code simplicity and not for any special meaning such as "Save our Souls."

By 1938, the A.W.A.  owned and operated 19 coastal stations located at Brisbane, Rockhampton, Townsville, Cooktown, Willis Island, Thursday Island, Darwin, Wyndham, Broome, Geraldton, Perth, Esperance, Adelaide, King Island, Melbourne, Hobart, Flinders Island, Sydney and Lord Howe Island. All of these stations were in regular touch with shipping. Nine of the stations operated continuously day and night throughout the year to communicate with ships at sea over distances of up to 10,000 miles.

4. The Stations in the Island Radio Service.

Amalgamated Wireless (Aust) also established other stations in New Guinea and in other Pacific Islands.
These stations were referred to as the Island Radio Service. In New Guinea, these stations were at:

The Wireless Telegraph Office in Suva was opened in April 1911. It was built using Marconi equipment for use within Fiji.

5. Nature of the stations.

Power: The Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane and Adelaide stations were also equipped with  German Telefunken 25 kW quenched spark transmitters. The remaining coastal stations were equipped with crystal receivers and 5kW transmitters using the Balsillie system of spark transmission.

Power was drawn from the city supply but, in case of failure, the battery receiver was used. Later a generator driven by a diesel engine was installed to make the stations entirely independent in cases of a power breakdown.

Broadcasting frequency: The aim of the original network was to ensure that all ships in Australian waters would be in contact with at least one station at all times. One frequency of 500 kHz was initially used for communications with ships. The long-range Perth and Sydney stations could also operate at 125 kHz to allow communication between each other. The range of the transmitters was soon increased from the original 500 km to 700 km by day and up to 3,500 km at night.

The transmitters consisted of two units - a radio frequency and a power supply unit:

Each transmitter had its own control unit located on an operating valve. From each unit starting, stopping, change of type of emission and frequency could be controlled.

Receivers: The first units for the receiving apparatus consisted of two electric receivers and one battery receiver. Reception could be carried out on frequencies from 100 kilocycles to 28 megacycles. The first type of receiver used in wireless telegraphy was Marconi's Coherer. He had used the Coherer with which distances up to 40 to 50 miles were obtained. If an opeator fluked 100 miles, a letter of congratulations was received from the Marconi Company.

All apparatus was manufactured in Australia by A.W.A. - a stragegy which Fisk considered absolutely imperative to ensure Australia was independent.

The main mast at each station was 160 ft high and carried transmission and reception aerials.

In February 1924, a number of newspapers carried AWA advertisements - one of which was:

Wireless Service.

Of all the gifts of science that have enriched mankind, none is of more vital importance than Wireless communication.

Communication constitutes the nervous system of a country and is an indispensable factor in commercial and social progress.

Rapid and efficient means for the dissemination of information, both within Australia and between Australia and other countries, are essential for the development of Australia's vast resources and the progress of her people.

The various activities carried out by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited comprise the exchange of radio messages between Australian Coast Stations and ships at sea; the publication at sea of a daily newspaper; the operation of modern radio electric works for the production of every type of wireless equipment for coastal radio stations and ship stations; broadcasting transmission stations and broadcasting receivers. The Company also maintains a well-equipped and highly technical plant for the manufacture of that marvel of modern wireless - the Electronic Valve.

Amalgamated Wireless
Australasia Limited.

Launceston Examiner 16 February 1924.


In the 1920s, a common addition in the newspapers to the Shipping Intelligence was a section headed:


The following vessels were in communication with the various coastal radio station in the past 24 hours:".

The stations would be listed as:

Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville, Thursday Island, Broome, Perth.

5. Summary of the use and activities.

The coastal stations handled approximately 2,500,000 words annually with ships at sea. They were also used extensively for broadcasting official time signals, meteorological bulletins, weather reports, storm warnings and warnings of any wreckage or other navigational dangers to ships at sea.

Press news was transmitted nightly from Sydney Radio to ships at sea for publication in the Ocean News newspaper, printed on board. Navigation and weather reports are also transmitted nightly.

More than 470 ships had been equipped with A.W.A. wireless installations by 1930 and 125 ships with the auto- alarm receiver. This was an ingenious form of radio receiver. It was constructed to respond only to the preliminary dots and dashes that precede the marine distress signal. When the signal is received, the auto-alarm receiver springs to life with a loud clanging of bells in the operator's cabin, his sleeping quarters and on the ship's bridge.