Mile High ABC

In 1959 when ABC Illawarra started broadcasting as 2WN there was a staff of five at the radio transmitter on the edge of Lake Illawarra at the end of Boronia Ave Windang. A Supervising technician, senior technician, two technicians and a cleaner made up the team. All were full-time employees of the Post Master General's Department (PMG) that had the contract with the ABC to maintain the transmitter and studio equipment. A cottage located next to the transmitter building was provided for the Supervising technician as his services may be required anytime of the day or night.

I started as a Technician-In-Training in 1959 and by the time I was qualified and had sufficient experience to work at the 2WN transmitter it was the late 1960’s and by this time there was no permanent staff at the transmitter. Twice a month a technician would conduct a series of routine tests at the Windang transmitter in the early hours of the morning. 2WN did not broadcast 24/7 in those days.

It meant being at the transmitter ready by 5am to go through a number of routines including a ‘frequency run’ where a series of tones was sent down the broadcast line from Sydney. These tests were done at all regional radio transmitters and the level of the various tones were measured and recorded as an ongoing record of the equipment’s performance. There was standby equipment in case the working units failed and this standby equipment was fired-up and tested at the same time as the working equipment.

One of the more important pieces of equipment at a radio transmitter is the line amplifier through which the programs from the studios (located in Wollongong and Sydney) passed. There was also a standby line amplifier which had to be turned on to do the routines and turned off when finished.

A number of technicians from the Wollongong Telephone Exchange were trained to do these routines and as the start was before 7am you were paid overtime for two hours at double time. One of the techs on the roster issued a challenge, which he had already met. The aim was to get home and back into bed with your wife whilst still on double-time. I love a challenge, and decided to join this ‘mile high club’. I lived only ten minutes from the transmitter and so was in with a real chance to join the club.

The next time I was rostered I discussed the plan with my wife the night before and went to work the next morning. By 5:30am I had finished the frequency run and could return to the transmitter later to finish the other routines. As I drove up the driveway my wife was waiting at the front door, “by gee she’s keen” I thought to myself.

“You have to go back” she shouted as I got out of the car, “2WN is off the air”. Normal transmission started each day at 5:30am and nothing was going to air. I raced back to the transmitter and discovered that at the end of the frequency run, in my excitement I had turned off the line amplifier instead of the standby line amplifier. I never did get to fly high with the ABC on double time.

Chris. Cartledge
8 Mar 2012