How an air-conditioning mechanic in Sydney Australia became an award winning broadcaster in Britain Part 22.

30Dec13

Australians are hard working, no-nonsense, practical people. They might not follow all of the rules but they get the job done. They also love to have fun.

For two weeks in June 1993, as part of the broadcasting course I was on at the Australian Film Television and Radio School, I was working at the radio station 6KG in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. One day the station engineer told me he was going for a trip out to the transmitter site and asked me if I wanted to tag along. In over twenty years of broadcasting it is still the only transmitter site I’ve ever been to. It was a fascinating and frightening experience.

We drove out through the red desert sand in the station Land Rover to a small isolated hill just outside town. It’s the highest point in Kalgoorlie but as Kal is so flat, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been called a “hill” anywhere else. On top of this lump was the mast and next to it, a shack no bigger than a garden shed. The mast was surrounded by a criss-cross wire fence which was about eight foot high and held up with galvanised steel posts at each corner. The baking desert sun had burnt off the plastic that had once covered the wire. Now the brown rusty wire blended in perfectly with it’s surroundings.

The site was deserted which isn’t surprising considering how hard it is to get to. When we got out of the Land Rover, there should have been silence but instead, I could hear the radio station. At first I thought there was some kind of speaker set up. Then I realised that the sound was coming from the fence. The AM signal being broadcast by the mast was so powerful that it was vibrating the rusty wire. The vibrations were being amplified by the hollow steel tube fence posts.

We went inside the shack which contained three steel cabinets, about the size of phone boxes. The engineer said, “The transmitter is in here” and opened one of the cabinet doors. Inside was what looked like a goldfish bowl and inside it, two circular rings of continuous sparks danced with each other in time with the music coming from the fence outside. I think I was looking into a massive vacuum tube but don’t know for sure. It looked like something out of Doctor Who. The engineer told me it was an old analogue transmitter and that these days most AM transmitters are solid state. I’ve since found out that 6KG started broadcasting in 1931, could this have been the original transmitter?

The reason we were there was so he could change one of the aircraft warning lights near the top of the mast. He got the new lamp out of the back of the Land Rover and put it in a back pack. He opened a gate in the fence then showed me the big switch that shuts down the transmitter. He said, “If you touch the mast while you’re standing on the ground, you’ll be fried”. I don’t know how much electricity was going through the mast but if it was powerful enough to turn a rusty fence into a radio receiver, it was definitely powerful enough to kill you. He said, “I’ll switch the transmitter off and as soon as I’m on the mast and not touching the ground, you switch it back on again”.

With his back pack on, he waited till a song started and shut down the transmitter. Then he ran outside, scrambled onto the foot pegs on the mast, started the climb and shouted “You can turn it back on again now!” It really didn’t feel right throwing the switch while he was on the mast but he said it would be fine so I went back into the shack, threw the huge switch and put 6KG back on the air. I knew we were back live because I could hear the song on the fence again.

About ten minutes passed as I squinted towards the top of the mast, then I saw him make it to the aircraft warning light. Not much happened on the ground for a long time. After a while I had another nosey about inside the shack. As I gazed into the transmitter cabinet for a second time I was mesmerised by what still looked like the brain of the Tardis. Then I got the fright of my life. I almost jumped out of my skin when I heard someone behind me shout “Job done!”

It was the engineer. My brain was racing, how could this be? Surely I was supposed to switch the transmitter off before he could get off the mast without being electrocuted! Did he get off with the power still on? Was he dead? Was this his ghost?

“How did you get off the mast without being killed?” I asked. He looked me in the eye, grinned and said, “Jumped”.

Craic on!

Listen to the latest Mack Nuggets at http://www.mackmedia.co.uk

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