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Shepparton News: Radio goes quiet

At noon eastern standard time yesterday the shortwave broadcast of Radio Australia, which sends out impartial news to the world, went silent.

The Shepparton broadcast facility went offline after running almost continuously since 1944, after the ABC announced it was moving away from shortwave broadcasting to focus on webstreaming.

The facility, which Broadcast Australia owns, is on Verney Rd to the north of Shepparton, where its specialised array of broadcasting equipment sent out shortwave radio signals that could be heard across the globe.

All the way from Arkansas in the United States, Frederick Boerner told The News he had regularly listened to the Radio Australia broadcast for several years and was disappointed it was going offline.

‘‘I would like to say that my 11-year-old son listens to shortwave also,’’ Mr Boerner said.

‘‘He tells his friends at school about some of the ‘cool things he hears from all around the world’.

‘‘It is great to see him and his friends next door interested in things going on around the world on the shortwave instead of being glued to a video game.’’

The shutdown has angered a former district manager at the site, Greg Baker, who has started lobbying politicians and the ABC to keep the site online.

He believes the government and the ABC have misjudged the number of people across the globe who still listen to broadcasts.

‘‘You could nearly heritage list this place, maybe that would be a way to save it,’’ Mr Baker said.

‘‘I feel the saddest for the people that are not going to hear Australia any more.

‘‘A lot of the audience that this facility reaches, they can’t talk back because they don’t have internet, or telephones or mobile phone services, so this facility here is reaching way more people than what we think — we just don’t know it because they can’t tell us.’’

The facility was originally built during World War II to send morale-boosting broadcasts to Australian troops serving overseas.

Shepparton was picked for its flat terrain, making it ideal for long-range broadcasts, and its distance from the major cities, at a time when aerial bombardments were a significant risk.

After the war the ABC used the facility to broadcast Radio Australia out to the world and, via shortwave radios, people could listen in on Australian news in Fiji, Indonesia, India and beyond.

Just what will happen to the Shepparton site was still up in the air.

Broadcast Australia did not grant requests to visit the site on the day of the final transmission and has said via a statement that no decision had been made on if the facility would be demolished.

Although Broadcast Australia did not confirm staffing numbers, a number of former employees said that although numbers were larger in previous years, recently there were only about three staff at the site.

Mr Baker said any change of heart by a future government could present its own problems, as the site was not designed to be switched off for long periods.

‘‘Those antennas out there do need maintenance, they don’t last forever,’’ Mr Baker said.

‘‘It will degrade over time; and the transmitters — the longer they are off, the harder it will be to get them back on again.’’

South Australian NXT party leader and senator Nick Xenophon said he would fight the decision to end the service by introducing legislation to force the ABC to reverse the shutdown.

‘‘It’s not too late for the ABC to reverse this daft decision — if it doesn’t it can expect to be on a collision course with MPs from all sides of politics,’’ Senator Xenophon said.

The Radio Australia broadcast can still be listened to

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