The country’s FM spectrum is congested, and attempts to free up some of the spectrum for new players is proving difficult
BRISBANE, Australia — Island FM 88 in Queensland, Australia, started local and has gone global. The station sits in the Bay Islands — four islands southeast of Brisbane. The islands are only accessible by ferry, and locals enjoy a more tranquil pace of life than on the mainland. The scenery is semi-tropical (think mangoes and citrus), and the bird watching is fantastic.
Shannon Shuttleworth started Island FM 88 in August 2019. It’s licensed as a low-power open-narrowcasting (LPON) station. LPONs are limited in coverage and power, so Island FM is powered by just a few watts. But Shannon wanted his Island FM to reach all four islands. Starting out on Macleay Island, he tried site after site. When his friend Kevin Schwartz moved to Russell Island, Shannon found a permanent location for the transmitter tower at Schwartz’s house.
The tower sits about 35 meters above sea level, is 15 meters high and has a 5/8 wave vertical on top. The station plays music from the 1960s to the 1990s using RadioDJ automation, with Breakaway Audio Enhancer processing the audio. It also features community announcements and carries a few local advertisements.
“We need a lot of gear that we just can’t afford at the moment,” says Shuttleworth. Island FM tried raising some funds online, but the response was minimal. The station added a shortwave signal in early 2020. Shuttleworth wanted to increase the power to 700 watts with a new transmitter late last year. Sadly, that transmitter failed minutes after being on the air for the first time. He shipped it back to the manufacturer for repairs and has no idea when he will see it again.
So, the shortwave signal now uses amateur radio gear, running a maximum of 200 watts peak envelope power. The antenna for the shortwave is an inverted V with the balun mounted on the FM tower. The shortwave schedule is not fixed but is typically the overnight hours. This has allowed the small station a larger reach, perhaps larger than Shuttleworth imagined.
“Compared to the other Aussie low power stations, we are quite strong around Australia at night and into New Zealand. We also seem to have a lot of people in Europe and around there hearing us,” Shuttleworth explains.
So, even with the limited power, thanks to shortwave, Island FM 88 has become a station with a global reach.