THE PEDAL RADIO
John Flynn was concerned about the isolation experienced by the people he ministered to in outback Australia. As a visionary, he saw the opportunity to minister to them in a practical way which would also commend the Gospel. Flynn’s dream was to develop a ‘mantle of safety’ over the outback establishing adequate medical care for those living in remote and isolated areas by a system of long distance medical consultations, bush hospitals and a flying doctor service that could take medical assistance to where it was needed and transport patients when necessary. Although Flynn conceived this idea as early as 1912 it was not practical as it required radio or telephone communication which was all but absent from the outback at that time.
Under the encouragement of Flynn an Adelaide electrical engineer, A.H. Traeger, developed a cheap Morse radio transmitter-receiver with a compact generator. By late 1927 Traeger had refined his generator to be powered by pedals so that a single operator could generate power with his feet leaving his hands free to operate the radio itself. A flying doctor service now became a possibility and Reverend John Flynn of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM) established the AIM Aerial Medical Service (later the Royal Flying Doctor Service - RFDS) in 1928, with the first base at Cloncurry, Queensland.
Cloncurry also became the base for the radio network, the mother station being installed at the Presbyterian Church in 1929. Six pedal sets were placed at the homesteads at Augustus Downs, Lorraine, Gregory Downs, Crinda, the AIM Hostel in Birdsville and the Presbyterian Aboriginal mission station on Mornington Island. In 1931 Traeger added a keyboard that sent out a Morse message when the equivalent letter key was struck, so knowledge of Morse was no longer needed to operate the pedal wireless. The silence of the Outback had been broken at long last!
Within ten years 150 pedal sets were in operation, most of which had been distributed free of charge by the AIM. Eventually voice transmission problems were overcome and people could speak to one another over vast distances.In addition to the direct contribution made to the AIM Aerial Medical Service, the impact of radio communication on outback life was immense. Being able to contact one another helped with feelings of isolation and loneliness, and while medical calls always had priority, the airwaves were opened to a full range of other messages covering a wide range of social, personal, business, spiritual and current affairs matters which in time included the establishment of the School of the Air in Alice Springs in 1951.