Fires hit ABC Radio's Batemans Bay transmitter | radioinfo

Fires hit ABC Radio's Batemans Bay transmitter

Tuesday 07 January, 2020

In an example of radio industry cooperation during adversity, commercial network Grant Broadcasters is working with the ABC on the South Coast of NSW to keep transmissions on air during the fires in that area.

As fires raged through the area last week, the ABC’s Mt Wandera transmission site at Bateman's Bay was disabled by flames (see pictures below) and is expected to take some time to repair.

The ABC, through its transmission provider Broadcast Australia (recently renamed BAI Communications) asked if it could share Grant Broadcasters’ nearby transmission mast and infrastructure, and has now combined its transmissions onto the Grant Broadcasters antenna.

Local radio services, including ABC South Coast, are now back on air, but operating at reduced power. The ABC’s television transmitter on the site is also off air.
BAI has also established additional temporary low power facilities at Batemans Hill for ABC Local Radio (operating on 101.9 MHz) and ABC television (operating on Channel 41).  As this facility operates from a lower altitude and at lower power than those at Mt Wandera, its coverage will be largely limited within the town of Batemans Bay.

On the South Coast, the Grant Broadcasters stations 2EC and Power FM  had “no issues with transmission coverage” and have so far remained on full power. Diesel generators have 4-5 days capacity and are being refuelled continuously.

Grant Broadcasters CEO Alison Cameron has told radioinfo:

“We have been live 24/7 throughout the emergency, particularly New Year's Eve and last weekend. It has all been depending on the emergency level, as we have been live over the last several weeks as this has unfolded.

“Most times we were simulcasting on both stations and rotating the on-air personnel to give them a break. We have had consistent coverage on our websites and social media throughout, often provided by non on-air staff.”

Grant Broadcasters staff and studios have been affected several times over the past few weeks. The company’s Bateman’s Bay studios were evacuated twice, but Power FM and 2EC were able to broadcast from the Bega studios to cover the Far South Coast. The Nowra studios were evacuated last weekend but 2ST and Power FM were able to broadcast from the Bowral studios to cover Nowra and the Highlands.

“Fortunately all our staff are safe and I don't believe that any suffered significant damage to their properties, although there were some close calls.

“I am so very proud of our staff at all 4 stations in such trying times. They are all exhausted and worrying about their own safety as well as their families and properties. Despite this, they have provided the highest level of coverage to keep the local communities informed. I cannot thank them enough for their commitment and efforts,” said Alison Cameron.

BAI Communications Australia CEO Peter Lambourne has told radioinfo:  “Across South Eastern NSW and North Eastern Victoria, our people are working alongside emergency services teams around the clock to ensure that their radio communications networks continue operating and deploying mobile assets into fire zones to maintain coverage in those areas. We are also keeping radio and television broadcast services on air nationally so that communities around the country can stay informed. Our teams are working closely with the emergency services to both protect sites ahead of fires approaching and to restore any affected services as quickly as possible.”
As the fires continue, other sites remain at risk and mains power has failed in numerous locations. BAI Australia is deploying temporary generators wherever possible to keep services on and communities informed. Sites running on generator power need to have their diesel refuelled every few days.

In southern NSW, the Prime transmitters in the Murray River towns of Walwa/Jingellic, 70 kms east of Albury, have also been damaged. BAI is working with the commercial broadcaster to determine how to best restore services at this site.
BAI is also providing maintenance for approximately 220 existing NSW Government Radio Network sites and is deploying temporary facilities for the NSW Telco Authority, which supports communications for the Rural Fire Service and NSW State Emergency Service. The company has brought staff in from around the country to support its work in ‘at risk’ areas and “teams are working closely with the Country Fire Authority, RFS and SES, and broadcasters to support emergency communications and broadcast services to the greatest possible extent, with everyone keeping safety top of mind.”

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has commended media and transmission providers for their efforts to keep services operating:

"I commend the network operators’ efforts in responding, which has included deploying temporary facilities to restore communications services for impacted communities, particularly those that are isolated. Many of the outages are due to power supplies being cut off, and in some cases are the direct impact of fire on network infrastructure. The current fire situations across Australia have made access difficult and unsafe at some sites to assess and restore services...

“In many cases, a portable transistor radio with a spare set of batteries is a vital way to receive emergency information, in the event there is a loss of mains power or mobile coverage.

"The ABC and other local radio stations are doing an excellent job transmitting vital emergency information to Australian communities. Telstra and Optus are offering targeted relief packages in affected regions in NSW and Victoria, including free use of payphones, call diversions from affected lines and other financial assistance."

Retailers in bushfire affected areas have told radioinfo that sales of radios have increased during the current fire season.

The RFS says 1,588 homes have been destroyed and 653 houses have been damaged in NSW so far this bushfire season. The figures are expected to rise as authorities continue to survey firegrounds.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimates the damage bill from the Australian bushfires since September has risen to $700 million. There have been 8,985 claims for damage and destruction so far. 

Main photo above: Jim Berman Facebook.
Burnt tx site photos below: BAI Communications Australia.


See all our coverage of how radio is responding to Australia's bushfires at this link, or click on the tag cloud below. 


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9 January 2020 - 2:37am
It is great to see this co-operation to keep the public informed.

The ABC local radio on that site is on FM, however in Bega it is AM.
AM radios which are not in cars are becoming hard to find.

There was also failures of fixed wireless NBN and mobile phones. Along with FM transmitters they are all located at the highest altitude in the area to maximise coverage area, but because hot air rises they are a target for fires along with the power line supplying the site.

Remember also that the spread of smart speakers will also stop working because there is no internet to supply the signal.

The advantage of radio is that virtually all vehicles have them, along with a large capacity battery as compared to mobile phones.

The ABC should stop advertising to use facebook and the emergency services websites which are not accessible in fires and cyclones.

Country broadcasters should consider converting to DRM so that their signal will cover large areas and has an emergency warning system. It wakes up the radio, increases the volume and announces the message even if the radio is tuned to another program. It will also show a map of the affected area and an indexed multipage text instructions using Journaline and even for cars the TPEG to reprogram GPS around blocked roads. The disaster area can be defined and only radios within that area will respond to the EWS messages. In city areas, the existing DAB+ transmissions can include the EWS messages etc.
9 January 2020 - 11:52am
No doubt, DRM is the practical way of he future for regional radio. In the mean time and reference the lack of AM radios these days, I was in the Aussie Storm Shop in Beaudesert Q, this week. They have these beaut AM/FM small, easily carried radios, canary yellow, so you should't misplace them. They have battery power, solar panels and a winder on the back which drives an internal generator (similar to the ones designed for African countries where many areas do not have mains power). They are <50 bucks!
Anthony The Koala
9 January 2020 - 7:00pm
I fully concur with StJohn.
I would like to make a few remarks.

On communicating using IP. I fully agree that communications relying on smart-speakers, web browsing and the use of social media may not work if the internet is not-functioning or not available. This includes landline services relying on the NBN in which the NBN's communications system relies on IP communication. Yes, your landline phone may well rely on an IP-based communications in between source and destination.

I fully agree that if if IP networks are down especially mobile phone networks carrying IP communication that it is totally useless for the ABC radio station to refer to those users. Therefore the ABC should read the information over-the-air that is on the social media platforms and not 'fob' off people to social media. This is especially for those not receiving IP through the landline via the NBN and through mobile networks carrying IP. Let's not forget the elderly and disabled or those who may not be computer literate.

Importantly to consider is whether the link between the tx site and studio is IP based, the radio station may well be out-of-order if the local area's IP system is out-of-order. Perhaps consider using a satellite link between studio and tx site.

On DRM. I have been reading StJohn's mission to converting all radio stations to DRM on this webpage and I have seen his submission to the ACMA. We await the results of the ACMA's determination on all the submissions.

We know the advantages of DRM having wider territorial coverage, reducing power consumption as compared to AM especially and FM transmissions.

The further advantage of DRM is to be able to send textual information and HTML-type/style formatted text for graphical display on a DRM receiver. StJohn's reply mentions a feature of DRM to communicate with GPS units in cars.

Updating the car's GPS system with information on road blockages may well be a boon to drivers wanting to know how to manage their journey.

The important word is 'updating'. I presume there is a person handling information on road blockages at the radio station to update the DRM-GPS information when roads are clear to drive.

Country broadcasters should consider using DRM. I agree with StJohn and an engineer from a rural radio station who wrote to this webpage regarding implementing DRM.

However, there are little or no DRM receivers. AM radio stations have been converting to FM not DRM because AM/FM receivers are ubiquitous. Even relay stations of the 'founding' AM stations are FM. Not DRM. I doubt that with 2XL's recent conversion from AM (918kHz) to FM (96.1MHz) the local electrical store is selling DRM receivers.

Note: I did check a well known national brand of electrical retailer in the Cooma area and all receivers were AM/FM, not DRM as at 9-01-2020.

When digital TV was mandated in 1998 and implemented in 2001 (NB I have written about this elsewhere on this webpage), there was to be a simulcast of the new digital service and old analogue service for a few years until a certain analogue service cutoff date.

Consequently the same simulcast of digital and analogue signals for radio broadcasting could be mandated with a complete switch off analogue.

But we await the decision of the ACMA in light of the submissions in regards the future use of the broadcast spectrum in the MW, SW and VHF bands.

Thank you,
Anthony of exciting Belfield
Alan Hughes
17 February 2020 - 3:45am
The media has not done a good job of describing what happened in Moruya. The MT WANDERA site is typical in country areas. This means that to get the maximum coverage area with a minimum of black spots, the highest location is used.

At Mt Wandera there are the following;
ABC local radio transmitter
Radio National transmitter
NewsRadio transmitter
ABC Classics transmitter
2 Commercial transmitters
5 TV transmitters
Fixed Wireless NBN transceivers (not the fibre optic cable to the user)
mobile phone transceivers.

Since hot air rises the fires will burn up to these peaks. Commonly the power line is burnt down. Access is not always possible to bring generators and fuel, when this communications is needed most. Thus no communications.

The high altitude sites mention above also applies to cyclones as well, where towers are also blown down.

The NBN’s suggestion to keep fixed phone lines going is not in Telstra’s interest as it will rarely get any money for any phone calls let alone paying linesmen’s and technicians wages.

The NBN’s bandaid of using Skymuster to Wifi in townsites does not help those in danger.

The solution is to install a high powered high frequency Digital Radio Mondiale transmitter in the centre of Australia. There is only low scrub and it is distant from any military threat. This transmitter can cover the whole of Australia

DRM has an emergency warning system which will wake the radio and tune the radio to the emergency broadcast. The volume is increased for a voice message, but it can also use Jounaline to give detailed indexed instructions on what to do and show maps of the affected area. It can also transmit the latitude and longitudes of the corners of the emergency, so only radios in the affected area will switch.

This solution needs DRM receivers. To make the purchase of radios attractive, the 400,000 Australians cannot hear any radio whilst mobile in cars, trucks and boats, can listen to ABC Newsradio and Grandstand live. For regional Australia DRM using the vacated analog TV channels 0 – 2 can transmit all of the channels available to Capital city residents. In addition commercial radio can drastically reduce their transmission costs.

I made a submission to the ACMA’s “The future of Australian Radio Delivery” in June last year and they are in IFC13/2019 Submission 4. Please read both of my submissions. These submissions give much more detail including reduce he huge unnecessary electrical consumption.
28 December 2020 - 8:10am
I must give credit to Grant Broadcasters for keeping their services on air during the emergency. Very well done, obviously they have made significant investments in redundancy and backup systems. AM and FM radio is the best way to go in an emergency. It's best kept the role of the broadcasters to interrupt their programming with emergency information in situations like the bushfires. They're smarter than technology. I think the last AM / FM portable radio I bought cost me $12 from K Mart about 18 months ago.

Where an ABC local AM transmitter is taken out by natural disaster they should have the ability to quickly switch local radio programming onto an alternate frequency such as one used by Classic FM. AM and FM transmitters are rarely colocated.
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